Brendan Weber

Crews Reach 15 Percent Containment in Fight Against Santa Cruz Mountains Fire

At least seven firefighters battling the blaze have suffered injuries

What to Know

  • Blaze burning in area of Bear Canyon and Deer Creek roads
  • At least 300 acres burned; 15 percent contained
  • Four unknown structures destroyed

The fight continued Wednesday as crews worked to gain control of a 300-acre vegetation fire that has ripped through a heavily-forested area of the Santa Cruz Mountains, injured seven firefighters and forced dozens of people to flee from their homes.

The blaze, which ignited late Monday in the area of Bear Canyon Road and Deer Creek Road, is 15 percent contained, according to Cal Fire.

Evacuation orders remain in place for the communities of Las Cumbres, Deer Creek and all residents of Bear Creek Road, according to Cal Fire, which reported that 150 structures were still threatened as of Tuesday night.

At least four unknown structures have already been wiped out by the flames, according to Cal Fire.

Before the sun rose on Tuesday, towering flames could be seen devouring trees as a blaze tore through hilly and rugged terrain of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Though fire officials were generally upbeat about their progress in containing the blaze, there were some setbacks. A drone grounded the much needed air attack for about an hour Wednesday.

"It set us back in our progress this morning and really getting after the work we needed to do today," Cal Fire spoksperson Angela Bernheisel said. "On this fire we're using water drops quite a bit."

Before the temporary stoppage, Cal Fire officials said the air support was critical in the steep terrain.

"The bucket drops are helping; they're a ton of help," said Steve Chapman, a Strike Force member. "And we're trying to get hose lines up here."

Despite the evacuation orders, Bernheisel on Wednesday stressed that fire activity was calm overnight, efforts have been made to protect homes in the Las Cumbres area, and residents outside of the evacuation area need not worry about the flames spreading.

"We want the surrounding community to know that this fire is really burning in the area that it was projected to be burning in," Bernheisel said. "We haven't had unexpected fire growth to threaten other communities. Folks who are really concerned about what they're seeing from the fires up north is not anything that we expect to happen down here."

One person has been arrested on suspicion of looting one of the homes that was in the evacuation area, according to the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Department.

An aerial view of the Bear Fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains captures pockets of flames still burning and smoke pumping into the air. 

As of Wednesday night, 871 firefighters, 92 engines, 12 helicopters and 11 dozers had joined the assault on the blaze, according to Cal Fire. 

"Today we will be hitting [the fire] hard again with the helicopter drops just like we were yesterday," Bernheisel said. "We should be able to make some significant progress today."

Five firefighters, including an inmate firefighter, all suffered minor injuries  while working the fire lines on Tuesday, according to Cal Fire. Two more firefighters on Wednesday were transported to hospitals, one after suffering second-degree burns to his hands and the other also suffering from unspecified burn injuries, fire officials said. 

Bernheisel noted that the steep and rugged terrain has played a role in the injuries.

Officials are still trying to determine what exactly caused the blaze to ignite.

Towering flames early Tuesday tore through dense vegetation and devoured trees before appearing to die down by the late morning hours. A thick layer of smoke then hovered over the mountain range due to light winds in the area.

[BAY ML STRINGER]Fire Breaks Out in Santa Cruz Mountains

The Zayante Fire Station, which is located at 7700 E. Zayante St. in Felton, has been designated as an evacuation center for those impacted by the fire. Another evacuation center has opened at Lakeside Elementary School — 19620 Black Road — in Los Gatos.

Those with horses and goats can seek shelter at the Graham Hill Showgrounds located at 1145 Graham Hill Rd. in Santa Cruz. Folks with smaller animals can go to Santa Cruz County Animal Services, which is located at 2200 7th Ave. in Santa Cruz.

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