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Gilroy's Crews Fire Grows To 5,400 Acres; Homes Threatened, Residents Evacuated

GILROY (CBS SF) -- The Crews Fire continued its march toward Highway 152 early Monday morning, but calming winds and hundreds of firefighters were slowing the blaze's advance through the sparsely populated hills and grasslands near Gilroy.

By Monday evening, the blaze had grown to 5,400 acres and remained just 20 percent contained. The gusty winds that had whipped up the blaze on Sunday had died down to gentle gusts overnight, aiding the firefighters efforts.

So far, about 70 people have been evacuated from their homes. The flames have destroyed two residential structures and one person suffered a minor injury, according to Cal Fire.

"It's moved into the foothills now, and what happens is the fire goes into drainages where the brush is and that carries it to the hilltops where the wind is. So the fire is travelling in three or four different directions right now," said Cal Fire Deputy Chief Mike Marcucci.

The big difference has been the firefighters in the sky.

A firefighting jet, airplanes and helicopters delivered fire retardant and water loads with pinpoint accuracy throughout the day.

Pink stains on the road, countryside and even livestock show how one hilltop property was protected from the flames.

The air drops might have been all that saved many homes from being destroyed.

"I'm really lucky. These guys did a bang up job. I'm pretty emotional," said area homeowner Brent Lawton.

Fire crews are moving heavy equipment into the area to keep the fire from spreading into Henry Coe State Park to the north, and Highway 152 to the south.

"We have to be able to adjust when the wind changes to get our bulldozers and hand crews in the correct places to box it in so it doesn't take a run anymore on us," Marcucci said.

The wildfire is currently moving in a southeast direction, threatening a lot of farmland. There are very few homes in the direction of the fire so mandatory evacuations have not expanded since Sunday night, according to Cal Fire.

The fire was first reported at about 2:45 p.m. Sunday, 3 miles east of Highway 101 near Crews Road. At the time, firefighting efforts were focused farther north near the Anderson Reservoir where the Park Fire was still raging. By late Sunday night that blaze had been all but halted at 343 acres and was 70 percent contained.

Evacuated residents near Anderson Lake had been allowed to return to their homes but, just as firefighters were getting a handle on the Park Fire, the Crews Fire began growing rapidly.

Steve Carter has property along Cañada Road. He watched as winds whipped the blaze into a wall of flames that advanced toward his property.

"It's just like a bomb -- the fire just explodes," he told KPIX 5. "It got windy and spread massively."

For a time it looked like his property would be spared but then the blaze changed directions.

"The wind shifted and it started back to the west," he said. "Then it's coming right down my property line. Then it's on my property. Then it's on the parcel below mine -- just that quick."

The 15-20 homes in the area were quickly evacuated. Two structures burned with others threatened. Dozens of horse trailers lined up on Crews Road as a group called Cowboy 911 rushed to the scene to help ranchers evacuate their livestock.

Fire crews from Oakland, Fremont, Alameda County and other nearby communities rushed to join the fight. Several hundred including Cal Fire strike teams were on the fire lines by Sunday night.

There have no injuries reported among the firefighters. A cause for the blaze has yet to be determined.

Len Ramirez contributed to this story.

© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News contributed to this report

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