CZU Lightning fires at 71,000 acres, 8 percent containment

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The CZU August Lightning Complex wildfires in southern San Mateo County and northern Santa Cruz County had reached 71,000 acres, and were 8 percent contained as of Sunday morning.

Cal Fire officials said favorable weather conditions allowed for progress to be made on the damaging blazes. Their optimism is tempered, however, as the National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning for the region from 5 a.m. Sunday through 5 p.m. Monday due to possible weather events that could bring additional thunderstorms, lightning and winds.  This round is expected to be a weaker version than last week’s, when over 11,000 lightning strikes over a 72-hour period caused by a tropical storm in the Pacific sparked a flurry of wildfires across the state.

“We’re preparing for the weather change, but we’re hoping for the best,” San Mateo County Sheriff’s Det. Rosemerry Blankswade said during a press conference Sunday.

As of Sunday morning, the nearly week-old fires in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties continued to threaten over 24,000 structures, and had destroyed 129. The number of personnel assigned to the fires across had grown to 1,349.

In San Mateo County, where the fires are threatening the communities of Pescadero and La Honda, firefighters took advantage of improved weather conditions to use water-dropping helicopters and construct fire control lines. As of Friday, about 4,600 people in San Mateo County were under evacuation order and about 800 animals had been evacuated. Evacuation centers have been set up at Half Moon Bay High, which is at full capacity, and the San Mateo County Event Center.

On the south end of the fire, fire personnel continued to build fire lines above the UC Santa Cruz campus. Over by Highway 9 in Boulder Creek, firefighters “kept the fire well above [Boulder Creek], although smoke conditions were heavy” and they couldn’t build as many lines as they would have liked, Cal Fire Operations Section Chief Mark Brunton said. Firefighters also worked to create lines on a ridgetop to protect the community of Ben Lomond. Fire is widespread in Bonny Doon, but progress has been made in that community. Felton, where firefighters recently put out a spot fire, is “sitting very well,” Brunton said.

Officials continue to bemoan seeing people in the evacuation zones, as rescues have put first responders at risk and hampers resources needed for the fire fight. Dozens of law enforcement personnel are monitoring evacuated areas for potential looters. Five suspected looters were recently arrested, and more recently a firefighter’s truck was burglarized, personal items including his wallet was taken and his bank account was drained, Brunton said.

In San Mateo County, Blankswade expressed disappointment to see so many people still traveling to the coast and beaches despite closures.

“We really need to rally together  right now Bay Area,” she said. “You never know when this is going to be your town, your city and your homes. And if we can support each other now, it will build a better and stronger Bay Area when you might need it most. so please, don’t come to the beaches right now…do not come to the coast.”

Visit the regional evacuations portal for more information. Visit Cal Fire’s incident map for more information on the status of wildfires throughout the state.

Headline image: CZU August Lightning Complex fires/Credit: Cal Fire CZU