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A Cal firefighter prepares to douse a spot fire on Highway 1 near Waddell Creek on Aug. 20. (William Duncan — Santa Cruz Local)

SANTA CRUZ >> Chain saws buzzed throughout the CZU Lightning Complex Fire burn zone Thursday as crews cleared roads, repaired utility lines and replaced water pipes across miles of scorched land. The fire was 24% contained with 516 homes reported destroyed Thursday evening in the 127-square-mile fire zone.

Scotts Valley and Paradise Park opened to residents Thursday. With more areas expected to reopen in the coming weeks, authorities said residents should familiarize themselves with a Cal Fire online map that will update with more reopened areas. A magnifying glass icon in the top left corner allows residents to type an address to find its zone and status. 

“Know the zone in which you live,” said Santa Cruz County sheriff’s Chief Deputy Chris Clark. “If it’s green, that means it’s repopulated, you can go back home. If it’s red, it’s still under that same (evacuation) order.” 

Green areas show places that reopened to the public Thursday around the CZU Lightning Complex Fire. Click on image for updated map. (Cal Fire)

Clark said the Sheriff’s Office Facebook page also will have reopening updates. No login is required.

Wednesday, Clark said he would “estimate days or potentially a week” before Felton residents could return. Clark also summarized the following rough timeline for reopening:

  • Felton: Days or a week
  • Areas north of Felton such as Ben Lomond: One week to several weeks
  • Boulder Creek: Weeks
  • Bonny Doon: Weeks
  • North Coast such as Swanton, Last Chance: Weeks possible

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“Just bear with us, please let us get out there and get that work done with our cooperators between law enforcement, fire, PG&E and all the other communications,” said Ian Larkin, unit chief of Cal Fire’s San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit.  “There’s a massive effort going forth right now to get the infrastructure back in place and get people back into their homes as quickly as possible.”

Many areas of San Mateo County such as Pescadero and La Honda also were reopened Thursday near the north flank of the blaze. 

At least 1,000 PG&E customers in the fire zone remained without electricity Thursday, according to its outage map.

Extreme heat from the CZU Lightning Complex Fire melted asphalt on Swanton Road on the North Coast. Hazards keep the area closed Thursday. (Cal Fire)

Authorities said trucks and heavy equipment operators will be all over the fire zone in the coming weeks. In areas such as Scotts Valley that are open, “If you don’t live here, we don’t want you coming here,” Clark said. “It just provides more traffic and provides more congestion.” 

The three men who were missing Wednesday were located Thursday, Clark said. 

Explosive material found

Clark said firefighters found a suspected pipe bomb in an open tool box near a home on the 100 block of Lake Drive in Boulder Creek on Thursday. A Sheriff’s Office bomb squad was called to the scene near the Boulder Creek Golf and Country Club. 

“There was also some other explosive type materials,” Clark said. 

Thursday evening, authorities worked to secure the area, determine if the device required removal or detonation and execute a search warrant on the home, Clark said. No one was reported injured.  

Santa Cruz County sheriffs Chief Deputy Chris Clark, right, discusses reopening areas around the wildfire Thursday. (Cal Fire)
Theft arrest

A 37-year-old Live Oak man, Brian Lee Johnson, was arrested on suspicion of theft, fraud and a probation violation after a firefighter’s wallet was stolen from a vehicle. Johnson is accused of using cards at at least two stores.

Deputies said they received “dozens of tips” in recent days that led to Johnson’s arrest. “The firefighter and his family have expressed extreme gratitude for the outpouring of support but are not interested in any donations,” according to a statement from the Sheriff’s Office.

Fire, damage updates
  • A marine layer hampered helicopter crews from dropping any water on the blaze Thursday morning but they resumed Thursday afternoon, said Mark Brunton, a Cal Fire operations chief. “They’ve been dropping water continuously, especially in the Butano (State) Park area,” Brunton said. 
  • More than 2,000 firefighters have responded including the National Guard.
  • At least 516 homes and 52 non-residential buildings have been destroyed, Cal Fire said.
  • Twelve helicopters, 198 fire engines, 23 bull dozers and 32 water tenders have been assigned.
  • Fire control lines have been installed further in Boulder Creek and many other areas. 
  • Fire-damaged and weakened trees are everywhere. One tree fell on a structure near Butano State Park on Thursday, Brunton said. “We started putting some of our specialists in there to assess and start mitigating that issue. It’s going to be a challenge, it’s going to be a lot of work,” Brunton said. 
  • Santa Cruz County’s preliminary damage map was 65% complete Thursday, authorities said. As tree crews helped clear roads, damage inspection teams penetrated deeper into the Highway 236 corridor Thursday.
Fire victim resources
  • Santa Cruz Local’s Wildfire Resources page has been updated this week to include many new programs including Small Business Administration disaster loans for homeowners and renters. SBA claims also can be made using disaster code CA-00325 at 800-659-2955.
  • FEMA registration starts at DisasterAssistance.gov.
  • Mail-in ballots: Fire victims who plan to vote in the Nov. 3 election can register to vote with a new address or change their address by visiting Santa Cruz County’s elections website. The deadline to change addresses is Sept. 14 because ballots will be mailed the first week of October. Voters who do not receive ballots can still vote at the polls Oct. 31 to Nov. 3.
Volunteers
  • Volunteers are asked to sign up at Santa Cruz Volunteer Center. Volunteers who worked but didn’t register are asked to do so because the county is expected to receive disaster-related funding for in-kind volunteer work.  
  • More federal and state money flows to Santa Cruz County if residents fill out the Census.
Mutual Aid

The following agencies responded to the CZU Lightning Complex Fire, according to Cal Fire. More law enforcement agencies will be added to this list as information becomes available. 

  • Albuquerque Area Office – U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
  • Amador Fire Protection District
  • Anaheim Fire Department
  • Aptos-La Selva Beach Fire Protection District
  • Arcadia Fire Department
  • Atascadero City Fire Department
  • Atascadero State Hospital Fire Department
  • Ben Lomond Fire Protection District
  • Benicia Fire Department
  • Boulder Creek Fire Protection District
  • Brea Fire Department
  • Bureau of Land Management
  • California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
  • California Conservation Corps
  • California Highway Patrol
  • California Office of Emergency Services
  • California State Parks 
  • Camp Roberts Fire Department
  • Central California District – Bureau of Land Management
  • Central County Fire Department
  • Central Fire Protection District of Santa Cruz County
  • Chester Fire Protection District
  • Coastside Fire Protection District
  • Corona Fire Department
  • Culver City Fire Department
  • Downey Fire Department
  • Felton Fire Protection District
  • Five Cities Fire Authority
  • Hemet Fire Department
  • Kentfield Fire Protection District
  • Kern County Fire Department
  • La Habra Heights Fire Department
  • Lakeside Fire Department
  • Long Beach Fire Department
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory
  • Los Angeles City Fire Department
  • Los Angeles County  Operational Area “C”
  • Los Angeles County Operational Area “E”
  • Los Angeles County Fire Department
  • Marin County Fire Department
  • Marina Department of Public Service
  • Mendocino County Operational Area
  • Menlo Park Fire Protection District
  • Merced Fire Department
  • Mid-Peninsula Open Space District Fire Department
  • Minnesota Private
  • Monterey County Operational Area
  • Monterey Park Fire Department
  • Morongo Indian Reservation Fire Department
  • Morro Bay Fire Department
  • Mountain View Fire Department
  • Mountains Recreation and Conservative Authority
  • National City Fire Department
  • National Weather Service (Hanford)
  • New Jersey Forest Fire Service
  • Newport Beach Fire & Medical Department
  • North Central Fire Department
  • North County Fire Department
  • Orange County Fire Department
  • Orange Cove Fire Department
  • Oxnard Fire Department
  • Paso Robles Fire Department
  • Redwood City Fire Department
  • Riverside County Fire Department
  • Riverside County Operational Area
  • Sacramento Metropolitan Fire Department
  • San Bernardino County Operational Area
  • San Bruno Fire Department
  • San Diego County Fire Authority
  • San Gabriel Fire Department
  • San Jose Fire Department
  • San Luis Obispo County Fire Department
  • San Luis Obispo Operational Area
  • San Mateo County Fire
  • San Mateo County Operational Area
  • San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office 
  • San Mateo Fire Department
  • San Miguel Consolidated Fire Department
  • Sanger Fire Department
  • Santa Barbara County Fire Department
  • Santa Clara County Fire Department
  • Santa Clara County Operational Area
  • Santa Clara Fire Department
  • Santa Cruz County Fire Department
  • Santa Cruz County Operational Area
  • Santa Cruz Fire Department
  • Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office 
  • Santa Fe Springs Fire Department
  • Santa Maria Fire Department
  • Scotts Valley Fire Protection District (XCZ)
  • Shasta County Fire Department
  • Shasta County Operational Area
  • Sierra Madre Fire Department
  • Soboba Volunteer Fire Department
  • Solano County Operational Area
  • South Pasadena Fire Department
  • South San Francisco Fire Department
  • Sutter County Fire Department
  • Tahoe-Douglas Fire Protection District
  • Tulare County Fire Department
  • Tulare County Operational Area
  • Tule River Indian Agency
  • Visalia Fire Department
  • Watsonville Fire Department
  • Western Region Headquarters – National Weather Service
  • Woodside Fire Protection District
  • Zayante Fire Protection District
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Stephen Baxter is a co-founder and editor of Santa Cruz Local. He covers Santa Cruz County government.