SCOTTS VALLEY (CBS SF) — While a small army of firefighters braced for a shift in wind direction earlier Tuesday, crews continued to make progress battling the massive CZU Lightning Complex fires, limiting the growth of the destructive blazes stretching across two counties.
As of early Tuesday evening, the fire complex’s growth had been limited to less than 1,000 acres with the total size rising to 79,640 acres. The fire complex was 19 percent contained.
Confirmed damage totals rose significantly with the latest update. More than 443 structures have been destroyed total with 11 of those in San Mateo County and the remaining 432 in Santa Cruz County. Fire officials said that over 24,000 structures remain under threat.
According to Cal Fire, about 77,000 people have been evacuated from both counties and seven people were still missing.
CZU LIGHTNING COMPLEX FIRES
- Evacuation Info, Burn Zone Map, Fast Facts
- Google Map of Fire Area
- Wildfire Shelter Map, Information
The Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Office announced there were no new arrests for looting as of Tuesday evening.
At least seven people are still missing according to the Santa Cruz County Sheriff, with three new missing person reports submitted earlier Tuesday.
The coroner’s office has released the identity of a body found in the Last Chance community in Davenport as that of 73-year-old Tad Jones.
For one of the few times during the week-long firefight since lightning strikes ignited 22 blazes in an area covering five counties, Cal Fire Operations Chief Mark Bruton had plenty of good news to report Tuesday morning.
“The last couple days we’ve seen significant progress in our firefight on this incident,” Bruton said. “The weather has really cooperated with us. We are steadily getting a trickle of new resources in. As soon as we are getting those resources, we are putting them to work.”
The fire complex’s advance along it northern edge has been slowed to a slow creep.
“The incident in the north zone is looking really good,” Bruton said. “The fire is basically creeping down toward our control lines…So we have no major fire front, just a slow crept of the fire.”
“It’s doing exactly what we want and although people may see some flames or fire or see smoke…Just know that really it’s part of our overall strategy and poses no threat with our wind patterns.”
Bruton said the wind direction was expected to shift to the south on Tuesday.
“It’s a no factor…We are very (confident) the line is holding (and the fire won’t advance into Santa Clara County),” said Bruton, adding the shift will also push any new fire away from the city of Santa Cruz.
But major challenges still remain.
“Our challenge is (near) Ben Lomond and the (Big Basin) State Park,” he said. “It’s just rugged terrain, heavy fuels and we are continuing to work in there. That’s where we are having some challenges because of the steepness, the roll out of the material, it burns back up into itself, it’s just something we’re working on. Not easy country to work in.”‘
Meanwhile, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Deputy Chief Chris Clark said it was a quiet night in the evacuated neighborhoods.
“Not a lot of people moving around,” he said. “That was a good thing. I think people are heeding the (evacuation) order.”
While there was plenty of optimism Tuesday, Cal Fire Chief Ian Larkin also added a touch of caution.
“This is a historic event for this unit,” he said. “We have never seen a fire like this in recent history. The fuel is very receptive due to drought conditions so any change in weather, though we have good predictive weather for the future, could change that environment. Please bear with us.”