CZU Lightning Complex ‘largest fire in San Mateo County history’

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The CZU Lightning Complex is now known as the largest fire in San Mateo County history, costing upwards of $60 million in resources, according to County officials.

Beginning Aug. 16 following a flurry of lightning strikes, the blazes consumed a total of 86,509 acres over San Mateo County and Santa Cruz counties. As of Tuesday morning, the fires were 91 percent contained, Cal Fire said.

“There is minimal fire over the majority of the fire area,” Cal Fire reported. “Crews continue to mop up and control hot spots throughout the fire area in an effort to support re-population efforts. Hazards, like compromised trees, still exist in the area.”

That’s good news, but much damage has been done. In San Mateo County, the CZU Complex consumed 22,755 acres, or roughly 35 square miles, and destroyed 14 homes, 28 commercial buildings and 17 structures, according to the County. It prompted evacuations in communities including Pescadero, San Gregorio and La Honda. The San Mateo Large Animal Evacuation Group safely evacuated 1,541 animals.

Hundreds of more structures were lost and thousands of additional residents evacuated in Santa Cruz County. Between both counties, 1,490 structures were destroyed and 140 damaged. One person died in Santa Cruz County and a firefighter suffered a minor injury due to the fires, according to Cal Fire. The fires grew so hot, in late August a non-native succulent “Ice Plant” caught fire on a beach next to Highway 1 in Santa Cruz County, “a rare event for this coastline,” officials said.

While the fire is subsiding, dangers continue amid recovery efforts. On Sept. 9, the County’s health officer moved to declare a local health emergency in impacted areas due to the potential for hazardous waste. Debris and ash from structure fires “can contain hazardous substances such as building materials or chemicals from household items,” according to County Health Officer Dr. Scott Morrow.

Pescadero Creek, Sam McDonald and Memorial parks remain closed. Efforts to repair and restore the area will “take many months to complete,” County officials said.

At its meeting Tuesday, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors ratified and extended an Aug. 19 emergency declaration due to the fires. It also presented a resolution honoring the heroic efforts of firefighters, first responders and volunteers who helped protect and support residents.

With lightning strikes at time causing hundreds of fires statewide, Cal Fire resources were limited. That led to a coordinated effort involving multiple local agencies in both counties, not just to fight fires, but also to evacuate, house and support the needs of evacuees and animals and ensure security within vacated fire zones. On Aug. 15, our story, Firefighters helping firefighters, recounts a collaboration among local firefighting agencies to support an undersourced fire battle.

“The work of CalFire to protect the population and environment during this ongoing wildfire disaster cannot be overstated,” District 3 Supervisor Don Horsley said in a statement. “This resolution is intended as a thank you on behalf of the people of San Mateo County. It would not be possible to note every person who made a significant contribution to this effort, but we want to broadly include, in our hearts and minds, all who made it possible.”

Among those recognized in the collaborative effort were CalFire, the County Manager’s Office, Sheriff’s Office, La Honda Volunteer Fire Brigade, Loma Mar Volunteer Fire Department, County Parks, Puente de la Costa Sur and additional public and community-based organizations. Community members showered firefighters with homemade notes expressing gratitude, many from children. Heaps of donations were provided to support evacuees. Alice’s Restaurant in Woodside fed first responders.

Photo credited to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office

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