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CZU Lightning Complex Fires: Mandatory Evacuations For UC Santa Cruz, San Mateo County Communities

SAN MATEO COUNTY (CBS SF) -- Evacuations were ordered Thursday evening for the campus of the University of California, Santa Cruz and surrounding areas because of the growing fires from the CZU August Lightning Complex (map). which has burned at least 40,000 acres.

The communities of Scotts Valley, Paradise Park and the area east Zarante Canyon west of SR 17 and south of SR 35 near Felton were also issued evacuation orders Thursday evening. Earlier Thursday afternoon, UC Santa Cruz had enacted voluntary evacuations for staff and students living on the school's campus.

Cal Fire also upgraded evacuation warnings for residents in Pescadero, San Gregorio, La Honda to mandatory orders, urging residents to leave immediately.

During a 6 p.m. update on the fires, one official said the fires are growing between 700 and 1,000 acres per hour and described the incident as "historic for this area."

Those who don't have a safe place to go were instructed to head to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk area as the official evacuation location. UC Santa Cruz students and staff were advised to have their university ID or some other form of identification to check in at Entrance B across from the Boardwalk parking lot. The Santa Cruz Boardwalk was otherwise closed to visitors through Sunday, according to the Boardwalk website.

Dozens of structures have been destroyed by the fast-moving fires and more than 48,000 residents evacuated as of Thursday evening.

Crews doused flames in Davenport Thursday afternoon as the CZU Lightning Complex fires continued to torch tens of thousands of acres.

In Ben Lomond, Jessi Jones drove his young child and wife to safety soon after he heard of the evacuation order.

"I've never seen it empty like this how it was last night when I was packing up," said Jones, who came back home to quickly save a few things.  "It's hard to tell how close the fires are from here."

Just down the street,  a team of volunteers from Santa Cruz Equine Evac made last-minute rescues for residents who couldn't save their animals. 

"We saw people with their house burning down. That's horrible," said Santa Cruz Equine Evac's Callie Gregg. "It's sad because you want to pack whatever you can. But you can only pack and take so many things sometimes."

"It's a little exhausting, but happy to be out here and have the equipment to be able to remove some of the animals and get to them before they get in harm's way," said Santa Cruz Equine Evac's Cindy Marchese

"How would you want to be treated? And if you had something happening like this, you would hope that your community would step up and take care of your animals too. Because that's not what I would need," said Gregg.

Thousands awoke in evacuation centers early Thursday, gripped with fear, anxiety and overwhelming concern about the fate of their homes and belongings as the fires continued to rage in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Cal Fire said some 12,000 Boony Doon residents have been forced to evacuate, while 7,200 residents of Boulder Creek and another 4,000 residents of the mountain community of Felton were ordered to flee.

A travel advisory was issued by Santa Cruz County, with tourism officials requesting that travelers stay away from the area. Santa Cruz County Emergency Operations Center also issued a request that tourists, out-of-towners and visitors occupying area accommodations such as hotels, motels and vacation rentals leave the area immediately in order to free up shelter capacity.

"Local shelters are near capacity. The EOC is working with local agencies including cities, post-secondary institutions, school districts and others to increase capacity," the release read. "However, the scale of existing and anticipated evacuation orders is unprecedented and the need to safely house evacuees is critical."

Overnight, new evacuation orders were issued for all residents of Ben Lomond and around Lompico near the Loch Lomond Recreation Area. Residents living north of Santa Cruz were also told to prepare to evacuate. Over 22,000 residents have already been forced to flee the fire complex which ripped through 40,000 acres.

Firefighters were battling the blaze outside the coastal community of Davenport, which has been evacuated. The heavy layer of smoke draped over the mountains, fire officials said, was preventing the use of aircraft to battle the blaze.

CZU Lightning Complex Fires
CZU Lightning Complex Fires (Cal Fire CZU)

The fire complex ripped through the Boony Doon area late Wednesday, destroying homes and structures. More than 8,600 homes have been threatened by the flames.

Among those forced to flee was Rita Mancera, who was helping neighbors at an evacuation center set up at Pescadero High School that was also forced to relocate at Wednesday by the advancing flames to Half Moon Bay High School.

"We know several homes have burned down," said Mancera.

Volunteers from the local non-profit Puente were leading the way at the evacuation site as officials say at least 70 families had come in for assistance.

CZU Lightning Complex Fires
CZU Lightning Complex Fires (Cal Fire CZU)

"That major plume of smoke is where my house is," said a worried Mark Velligan. "I had the sprinklers going on on the roof of my house this morning when I went back in. But I can't go back in right now."

"It would be a crushing blow if we lost it all," he added. "It's hard."

Strong hot, dry winds in the area made the firefight difficult all day Wednesday. Overnight temperatures were much cooler early Thursday as an excessive heat wave finally moved on.

"With all the fire activity going on in the state we are very limited on resources. We are trying to work as hard as we can," said Cal Fire Captain Manny Garcia.

Evacuees were appreciated of the firefighters' efforts, but concern still overwhelmed them.

"We climbed up the mountain to look at the fire and it looked like a volcano," said Pescadero resident and evacuee Kristine Scully.

Kenny Choi contributed to this story.


San Mateo County:

• Communities of Loma Mar and Dearborn Park Area (Zone SMC E018)
• Pescadero Creek County Park Area (Zone SMC E024)
• Butano Community Area (Zone SMC E098)
• Butano State Park Area including Barranca Knolls Community (Zone SMC E019)
• Butano Creek Drainage (Zone SMC E055)
• South Skyline Blvd. Area near Highway 9 (SMC E049)
• Russian Ridge Open Space Reserve Area (Zone SMC E027)
• Middleton Tract Area (Zone SMC E044)
• Portola Redwoods State Park and the Portola Heights Community Area (Zone SMC E048)
• Pescadero Beach Area (Zone SMC E073)
• Pescadero Creek County Park Area (Zone SMC E075)
• Bean Hollow Area (Zone SMC E042)
• Pescadero Area (Zone SMC E043)
• San Gregorio Area (Zone SMC E022)
• La Honda Area (Zone SMC E028)
• Red Barn Area (Zone E010)
• Russian Ridge Open Space Area (Zone SMC E027)
• Skylonda Area (Zone SMC E012)
• Langley Hill Area (Zone SMC E10)

An evacuation center is located at Half Moon Bay High School, 1 Lewis Foster Drive, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019.

Santa Cruz County:

• University of California Santa Cruz, campus only (Zone: SCZ 4)
• Paradise Park (Zones: CRZ 63, CRZ 64)
• All Scotts Valley residents West of State Route 17 (Zones: SCO 1-5, SCO 7, SCO 14-20 SCO 21 - SCO 25)
• Area east of Zayante Canyon, west of State Route 17 and south of State Route 35 (Zones: CRZ 18, CRZ 19, CRZ 20)
• Pescadero Beach Area (Zone SMC E073)
• Pescadero Creek County Park Area (Zone SMC E075)
• Bean Hollow Area (Zone SMC E042)
• Pescadero Area (Zone SMC E043)
• San Gregorio Area (Zone SMC E022)
• La Honda Area (Zone SMC E028)
• Red Barn Area (Zone E010)
• Russian Ridge Open Space Area (Zone SMC E027)
• Skylonda Area (Zone SMC E012)
• Langley Hill Area (Zone SMC E010)

• Waterman Gap Loop, Upper HWY 236, Boulder Creek Golf Course, Heartwood Hill, Lodge Road, Community of Little Basin, Lower China Grade, Upper China Grade, Community of Kings Hwy, Lower Jamison Creek, Gallion Heights, Fallen Leaf Neighborhood, Foxglove Lane (Zones CRZ10, CRZ13, BOU36, BOU20, BOU30, BOU31, BOU36, BOU37, BOU21)
• Saratoga Toll Road, San Lorenzo Park, Riverside Grove-Community of Teilh Drive, Wildwood Road (BOU38, BOU39, BOU40, BOU41, BOU42, BOU43)
• Everyone on Empire Grade Road, from Felton Empire north, all of Pine Flat Road, all of Ice Cream Grade, Bonny Doon Road, in between Pine Flat Road, Martin Road, and all associated side streets are under an evacuation order. (CRZ1, CRZ2, CRZ3, CRZ4, CRZ5, CRZ10, CRZ11, CRZ12, CRZ13, CRZ14, CRZ15)
• Bonny Doon south of Ice Cream Grade, to include Pine Flat Road South is now under an evacuation order. (CRZ7, CRZ8)
• Areas of Alba Road, Hubbard Gulch and Fanning Grade. (BEN 1)
• All areas of Ben Lomond (Zones BEN 2 – BEN 5)
• All areas of Zayante Canyon (Zones ZAY 1-ZAY 17)

Evacuation Warnings, Santa Cruz County:

• University of California Santa Cruz, campus only (Zone: SCZ 4)
• All areas adjacent to the Bonny Doon and San Lorenzo Valley should be prepared to evacuate if necessary. (CRZ7, CRZ8)
• Areas west of Highway 9 to Empire Grade
• South from Bear Creek Road to Felton, this includes Ben Lomond.

Evacuation Centers

Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, 2601 E. Lake Avenue in Watsonville
Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, 307 Church Street, Santa Cruz (AT CAPACITY)
Santa Cruz Seventh Day Adventist Camp Grounds, 1931 Soquel San Jose Rd

Road Closures

San Mateo County
• Pescadero Creek Road between Alpine and Cloverdale Rd.
• Cloverdale Road between Pescadero Creek Road and Gazos Creek.
• Alpine Road between Pescadero Creek Road and Skyline
• Whitehouse Canyon Road at Highway 1
• Portola Heights Road at Skyline

Santa Cruz County
• State Route 1 at Shaffer Road
• State Route 9 at Alba Road
• Empire Grade at Heller Drive
• Felton Empire Road at Featherston Way

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