Brendan Weber

Firefighters Strive to Gain Control of Santa Cruz Mountains Fire

At least seven firefighters battling the blaze have suffered injuries

What to Know

  • At least 320 acres burned; 30 percent contained
  • Four unknown structures destroyed
  • Seven firefighters injured

Some evacuation orders were lifted Thursday as fire crews steadily gained control of a 320-acre blaze burning in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Cool, moist weather conditions have assisted firefighters in their containment efforts, Cal Fire said. Heavy timber and steep inaccessible terrain remain the biggest challenges.

Overnight temperatures were expected to dip to between 46-52 degrees, with a 30 percent chance of rain throughout the fire area.

The Bear Fire, which started late Monday in the area of Bear Canyon Road and Deer Creek Road, is 35 percent contained, Cal Fire said late Thursday.

Evacuation orders for the Las Cumbres community, Skyline Boulevard community and areas south of Bear Creek Road were lifted Thursday morning, according to officials. Those living along Bear Creek Canyon Road, Deer Creek Road, Rons Road, Dons Road and tributary streets are still under evacuation orders. 

Yelena Malysheva was one of the lucky evacuees who was able to return home Thursday after anxiously waiting to see if her home would be spared by the flames.

"I haven't slept pretty much in the four days," she said. "I'm totally exhausted. My kids are at school. They're very tired, too."

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 Wednesday. A drone grounded the much needed air attack for about an hour.

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."

As of Thursday evening, 905 fire personnel, 72 engines, nine helicopters and three dozers were still battling the blaze, according to Cal Fire. 

At least four unknown structures have been destroyed by the flames, according to Cal Fire, and 300 remain threatened as of Thursday morning.

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

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. 

A Cal Fire official 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 could be seen ripping through dense vegetation and devouring trees right after the fire started before they were eventually suppressed by fire crews on the ground and in the air.

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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.

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.

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