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Felton roads are nearly deserted under a sepia sky Aug. 20 after evacuation orders for the CZU Lightning Complex Fire. (William Duncan — Santa Cruz Local)

SANTA CRUZ >> In the wake of a historic wildfire that leveled at least 400 homes, authorities outlined a reopening plan Wednesday that is expected to allow Scotts Valley residents to return home this week.

  • Felton reopening could take a day or a week, Santa Cruz County sheriff’s Chief Deputy Chris Clark said in a news conference Wednesday evening.
  • Heavily damaged areas north of Felton could take a week or weeks, Clark said. 
  • Boulder Creek, Bonny Doon, Swanton and Davenport are expected to take weeks to reopen because of major damage to homes, utility lines, roads and roadside trees. 
  • For reopening updates, Scotts Valley residents can sign up for Scotts Valley police’s Nixle alert text messages. 
  • Cal Fire’s official evacuation map also is expected to be updated. 

About 77,000 people from Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties remained displaced due to the CZU Lightning Complex Fire on Wednesday. 

“The anxiety of wondering, ‘When am I going to get to get back home?’ We can absolutely empathize with that one,” said Santa Cruz County sheriff’s deputy Chris Clark. “We also want to do it when it’s safe. And when there’s infrastructure there to support safety and support people being able to live in those areas.” 

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Some San Lorenzo Valley Water District customers do not have drinkable water, a water district representative said Wednesday. The district also ordered water conservation because of miles of plastic pipes that burned in the blaze.

Many evacuated areas also have no services available for trash, mail or utilities, Santa Cruz County spokesman Jason Hoppin said. “If you remain in an evacuated area, be aware that basic health and safety services may not be available for the foreseeable future,” the county said in a statement. “For these and other reasons  — including allowing fire and law enforcement officials to do their work  — we urge everyone to leave the evacuation zone.”

“There’s a lot of road work to be done on the North Coast,” said Chris Clark, chief deputy of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office.

Missing men

Three men remained missing within the evacuation zone Wednesday evening, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Henry Reinke, 70, Shane Smith, 21 and Micah Szoke, 37, remained missing Wednesday in the evacuation zone of the CZU Lightning Complex Fire, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Call 831-471-1121 if spotted. (Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office)

The missing men were Henry Reinke,70. Shane Smith, 21; and Micah Szoke, 37, authorities said. Reinke was last seen by the person who reported him missing Aug. 20, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Smith was last seen Aug. 20 and Szoke last seen Aug. 15. 

“We don’t believe them to be fire victims, but we don’t have enough information to confirm that without a doubt,” Chief Deputy Clark said Wednesday evening. “There could be more to come on that.”

Santa Cruz County sheriff’s spokeswoman Ashley Keehn declined to say why authorities do not believe the men to be fire victims. It’s not clear if the men know each other. Authorities ask anyone with information to call sheriff’s dispatch at 831-471-1121.

UC Santa Cruz set to reopen in phases
  • Cal Fire lifted its emergency evacuation order for many parts of UCSC Wednesday evening.
  • Campus employees who live at Laureate Court, Hagar Court, Ranch View Terrace, Hagar Meadow and Cardiff Terrace were allowed to return Wednesday night. “The rest of the residential campus remains closed, as do the Coastal Science Campus and Westside Research Park,” university officials wrote in a statement.
Smoke lingers amid fallen branches on the 300 block of Swanton Road in Davenport on Sunday. Authorities say many areas have damaged power lines, loose tree branches and other safety problems. (William Duncan — Santa Cruz Local)

Fire updates

The wildfire was 21% contained Wednesday evening at 126 square miles, up from 124 square miles Tuesday evening and 122 square miles Monday evening, Cal Fire reported.

  • At least 408 homes have been destroyed, 39 homes damaged.
  • At least 49 non-residential buildings were destroyed, six damaged, Cal Fire said. 
  • At least 132 “minor” structures were destroyed and 16 damaged. All figures are for Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties, though authorities have said nearly all of the devastation is in Santa Cruz County. 
  • About 55% of damage inspection maps have been verified enough to appear on the county’s preliminary damage map, said Cal Fire incident commander Billy See. Roads still need to be opened in many “interior areas” so inspection teams can verify damage against parcel maps. Preliminary maps are intended for residents to determine the extent to which their home has been damaged so they can start insurance claims or  government relief processes, county leaders have said. 
Santa Cruz County has released a damage map so homeowners can begin applications for disaster relief. Click on the image for an updated map. (County of Santa Cruz)
Fire victim benefits
  • Residents impacted by the CZU Lightning Complex Fire can register for federal assistance at DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 800-621-3362. For Telecommunications Device for the Deaf, call 800-462-7585.
  • Registrants will need a Social Security number, household income, contact information, insurance information and bank account details if eligible for money. 

Santa Cruz County Supervisors Ryan Coonerty and Bruce McPherson wrote a letter to California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara this week that asked Lara’s office to help fire victims and dedicate a staff member to serve Santa Cruz County and the region. 

“We specifically asked that he do all he can to ensure fair and timely payouts to homeowners and to work with our offices and our state legislative delegation to regulate standards for re-insuring homes,” Coonerty wrote in a statement Wednesday.

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Stephen Baxter is a co-founder and editor of Santa Cruz Local. He covers Santa Cruz County government.