Update 3 p.m.: Wildfire in Santa Cruz Mountains prompts evacuations, 10 homes burned
CORRALITOS, Calif. (AP) ” Gusty winds fanned a wildfire today that burned at least 10 homes and more than 2,500 acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains, whose rugged terrain frustrated firefighters’ efforts to get a handle on the fast-moving blaze.
About 1,400 homes were under evacuation orders ” 336 of them mandatory ” as the fire, first reported around 5:30 a.m., continued to grow despite more than 500 firefighters and a swarm of tanker planes and helicopters dousing the area.
No injuries had been reported.
The blaze had grown to more than 2,500 acres by early afternoon and was completely uncontained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The flames sent a thick cloud of smoke into the air that could be seen miles away.
The fire is in the mountain range that separates Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties ” about 15 miles south of San Jose ” and the rural area is dotted with homes.
At least 10 homes were destroyed by the flames, and three schools in the area closed their doors Thursday because of the fire, officials said.
Santa Clara and Santa Cruz county officials said hundreds of people had been evacuated, including 200 students from a summer camp in the mountains. Some were being taken to an evacuation center in Watsonville set up by the Red Cross.
Heavy brush and timber and winds gusting up to 50 mph were complicating efforts to fight the blaze. Officials estimated the fire would grow to 10,000 acres before being contained.
“The fuels are very heavy and dry from a pretty mild winter. With that wind added in as a factor, it’s a pretty good recipe for fire,” said Battalion Chief Mike Marcucci.
Rebecca Henson, 45, was woken up by a neighbor to smoke and ash blanketing her wood cabin in Corralitos. She quickly evacuated with her dog, resigning herself to the possibility that her home burned after they left.
“That thing’s gonna go up like a torch ” it’s got wood floors, wood ceilings, everything,” Henson said as she gathered with about 75 other evacuees at a central market in another part of town. “There wasn’t an official evacuation, but we’re mountain folks and we’re pretty used to independent living. So it didn’t take too much common sense to realize this thing is close, we gotta go.”
The blaze also was swirling around Maymens Flat, a tiny community of about seven homes that overlooks the Pacific Ocean and the city of Santa Cruz. Ian McClelland, 50, who has lived there since 1987 on his 23-acre ranch, woke up Thursday morning to an orange glow on the hillside, and he immediately let his two horses free so they would have a better chance at surviving.
“There was not an opportunity to do anything,” McClelland said. “There was no opportunity to put them in a trailer. So I just let them loose. They had a good chance that way.”
When he returned to his property for a few minutes, nothing was left except the concrete foundations. Two of his ten dogs also died in the blaze.
“I don’t think it’s hit me yet,” McClelland said, his voice shaky.
Kenneth Kim, 66, stood on a ridge overlooking Maymens Flat, and peered through binoculars to see how his house was faring against the flames.
Kim initially seemed optimistic. But then the smoke cleared, giving him a better view: Smoke was coming from his home of 20 years.
“Oh, it’s gone. It’s smoldering,” Kim said. “I feel very scared, mad and … to start all over, I don’t know how.”
Associated Press writer Jordan Robertson in San Jose also contributed to this report.