SCOTTS VALLEY (CBS SF) — As of 7 p.m. Monday, the CZU Lightning Complex fires in northern Santa Cruz County and southern San Mateo County had burned 85,060 acres and almost 900 homes, Cal Fire said.
The fire, sparked Aug. 16 by lightning strikes, was at 41 percent containment, firefighters said Monday night. There is no estimated time for when the fires will be fully under control, Cal Fire said.
One person has died in the fires and another was injured. Neither was a firefighter.
Thousands of weary firefighters who have manned the lines battling the blaze in the timber-rich Santa Cruz Mountains for nearly two weeks got welcome relief Monday from the U.S. Army and the California National Guard.
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“They will be placed on the line to assist with fire suppression and mop-up efforts,” Cal Fire CZU Complex officials said in a press release. “Their presence is solely to bolster personnel on the fire line and are not assisting in security or law enforcement activities.”
Meanwhile, several hundred members of the Army’s 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion headquartered in Washington state will also soon be deployed to the Northern California fire lines.
“Usually you think of the Army going overseas, completing missions over there,” said Army specialist Terron O’Connor. “But it’s nice to do something on the home front.”
The unit’s commander — Lt. Colonel Jim Wade — echoed those sentiments.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to go out there and assist them with their mission so we can just hold the line to prevent any further spread,” Wade said.
Jim Platt with the National Interagency Fire Center said the soldiers have been undergoing an intense, crash course in firefighting tactics.
“It’s a pretty tall task to say we’re going to pick up 200 soldiers and turn them into firefighters in a week,” Platt said.
Many of the 77,000 who were forced to evacuate have been allowed to return to their homes. The latest came Sunday afternoon when residents in several areas of Ben Lomond were allowed to return.
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A Resource Assistance Center has been established at: 140 Front Street, Santa Cruz, open from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Firefighters — numbering more than 2,100 — have taken advantage of cooler temperatures and higher humidity in recent days. But a high-pressure system moving through inland regions will wick moisture from the air and bring renewed heat for the next week or so, said National Weather Service meteorologist Brayden Murdock.
“The bit of good news is the system might reduce inland winds. That might be a plus when it comes to fighting fires — less wind,” Murdock said Sunday. “But conditions will be much drier, so that’s the trade-off.”
There’s unlikely to be a repeat of lightning-packed thunderstorms that sparked so many of the fires, he said.