SANTA CRUZ COUNTY (CBS SF) — A series of wind-whipped fires were burning Tuesday in Santa Cruz County, prompting mandatory evacuations, Cal Fire reported.

The fires were burning in a region that saw some 1,500 structures destroyed during the CZU Lightning Complex fires last summer. Cal Fire said it had responded to at least a dozen vegetation fires in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties in 12 hours.

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The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office said a fire north of Watsonville dubbed the Freedom Fire prompted evacuations were ordered for Nunes Rd., Gillette Rd., Ben’s Way, Halton Rd. and Willow Heights in the Aptos Hills-Larkin Valley area, impacting about 100 homes. As of 3:20 p.m., the fire has burned 40 acres and is 20% contained.

No structures have been damaged.

In the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Panther Fire had burned about 10-12 acres in the area of Stapp Rd. and Panther Ridge Rd. in Boulder Creek and was 55% contained as of 3:20 p.m. An estimated 20 homes were evacuated.

Shortly after 2 p.m., a new fire named the China Grade Fire broke out near China Grade Road and Foxglove lane northwest of Boulder Creek. As of shortly before 7 p.m., the fire has burned at least 20 acres and is 95% contained.

Also burning in the Santa Cruz Mountains was the Empire Fire, which was burning vegetation on Empire Grade Road near Alba Road. It was at six acres and not contained. No structures are threatened.

Nearby, the Fanning Fire on Fanning Grade west of Highway 9 had burned 18.8 acres as of 3:30 p.m. and was 95% contained, Cal Fire said.  There are structures in the area but there were no evacuation warnings.

In Soquel, a fire on Prescott Road had been contained at 1.2 acres. Some 10 miles northeast of that fire, another fire was burning in the Scotts Valley area.

In San Mateo County, a 10-acre fire was burning in Butano State Park and was 0% contained. The North Butano Fire was burning Off of Old Womans Creek Road, South of Loma Mar. As of shortly before 7 p.m., the fire has burned 10 acres and is also 95% contained.

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Cal Fire said other fires were burning in the CZU Lightning Complex burn area that are difficult to access due to many downed trees, including two fires off the Johansen Trail less than an acre in size near Big Basin. Fire crews were cutting into the vegetation to try to access them.

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Gusty winds have fanned fires across the Bay Area, with the region seeing a number of downed lines and trees. The National Weather Service has extended a Wind Advisory through 6pm Tuesday.

At one point Tuesday there were 30,000 PG&E customers without power in Santa Clara County and another 25,571 customers in Santa Cruz County, both counties having the most outages of 75,000 across Bay Area counties. As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, 51,000 PG&E customers were still without power, with the majority of outages being weather related.

Winds Tuesday also hit other parts of the state, where some residents were blacked out by utilities to prevent downed or damaged power lines from sparking.

Most of California is experiencing drought conditions and the remainder is considered abnormally dry. Winter snowfall and rain have largely been woeful.

Gusts howled at speeds up to 95 mph (152.8 kph) in the Mayacamas Mountains to the north of San Francisco Bay, and winds raised clouds of ash and dust from wildfire burn scars across Monterey County, the regional National Weather Service office said.

High wind warnings were posted in the Sierra Nevada and adjacent foothills.

 

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