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June 27, 2022

Firefighters in Santa Cruz helped by fog, milder winds

Calmer winds and heavy fog brought some much-needed relief
Friday morning to firefighters working to rein in a wildfire that
quickly consumed a dozen buildings in the Santa Cruz Mountains a
day earlier.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will appear in Christmas Hill Park in
south Gilroy at 10:30 a.m. to address firefighters, who have set up
a

tent city

there, his office confirmed.
Recently added: photo gallery of the fire.
Coming soon: A A video of the fire and an interview with Summit
Road residents Mark and Nancy Hildebrand and an
Calmer winds and heavy fog brought some much-needed relief Friday morning to firefighters working to rein in a wildfire that quickly consumed a dozen buildings in the Santa Cruz Mountains a day earlier.

By dawn, the blaze was 20 percent contained after scorching 3,100 acres.

Hundreds of residents remained under evacuation orders – more than 300 of them mandatory – while more than 500 firefighters and a swarm of tanker planes and helicopters continued dousing the area.

No injuries have been reported from the fire, which was first reported Thursday morning. The cause remained under investigation.

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.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency for Santa Cruz County, allowing access to state funds. Schwarzenegger will appear in Christmas Hill Park in south Gilroy at 10:30 a.m. to address firefighters, who have set up a “tent city” there, his office confirmed.

The milder morning conditions were a stark change from Thursday, when winds gusting up to 50 mph frustrated efforts to fight the blaze. Officials had estimated the fire would grow to 10,000 acres before being contained.

Rebecca Henson, 45, was woken up Thursday morning 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 Maymen Flats, 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 10 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 Maymen Flats, 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.”

sending clouds of billowy gray smoke looming from the west.

The unusual direction of the wind, blowing north-northwest instead of from the coast, according to meteorologists, was bad for the fire but kept it on the west side of the mountains away from Gilroy.

“This is a dynamic wind pattern out of the north-northwest that’s pushing this fire,” KTVU Chief Meteorologist Bill Martin said Thursday afternoon. “These winds are driven from the upper atmosphere. They have been strong this morning, which is atypical, they usually pick up in the afternoon. It’s going to be a dynamic wind situation consistently until midnight, with 25 to 35 mph gusts going higher in the fire zone, maybe up to 50 mph, and the fire is creating its own wind turbulence at the surface.”

Officials closed schools in the area and prompted numerous evacuations, according to fire officials. Gilroy Unified School District officials said students were being kept in for recess, lunch and physical education periods.

At 5:30 p.m. Thursday, the blaze – dubbed the Summit Fire – was burning 15 miles northwest of Gilroy.

First reported at 5:30 a.m. near Summit Road and Maymen Flats south of Loma Prieta, the blaze consumed more that 3,000 acres by Thursday afternoon and was 15 percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection officials. The flames sent a thick cloud of smoke into the air that could be seen miles away throughout the day.

About 1,400 homes were under evacuation orders – 336 of them mandatory – as the fire continued to grow despite more than 500 firefighters and a swarm of planes and helicopters dousing the area.

No injuries were reported by late Thursday afternoon. The cause is under investigation, spokesman Dick Rawsom said. The last fire in this area was about 20 years ago, Rawsom added, but across the valley in Henry Coe park the Lick fire consumed about 40,000 acres last September.

Heavy brush and timber and gusting winds complicated efforts to fight the blaze, officials said.

“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.

The unusual wind pattern played a major role in the rapid spread of the fire, but conditions are expected to improve today, Martin said.

“It’s going to cool down and the moisture will increase, winds will have a northwest trajectory (today) and (Saturday),” he said.

Today, mostly sunny skies are expected, with a high near 76 and north-northwest wind 9 to 13 mph. Saturday might bring even more a break with a 20 percent chance of showers after 11 a.m.

Roads in the area were closed, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Chris Armstrong. “Hecker Pass is open, despite what people are hearing, and Highway 17 is open,” he said. “Pole Line Road is closed, and there is Summit Road checkpoint, with officers allowing only locals in. No one is allowed into Mt. Madonna County Park unless it is absolutely necessary.”

Clay Bentson, battalion chief for Gilroy Fire Department, was at Christmas Hill Park Thursday morning preparing to set up a “tent city” as a staging area to house and feed firefighters as they finish their shifts. Crews completed the set up Thursday afternoon.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed a state of emergency in Santa Cruz County.

Gilroy City Councilman Craig Gartman said Monday’s planned family celebration of Memorial Day at Christmas Hill Park will be canceled.

“We’ll go ahead with the remembrance ceremony and the parade, but there’s just not a way to move the family day, not with five days’ notice,” he said.

Mark Hildebrand, 54, who has lived on Summit Road since 1986, said Thursday morning his home is about five or six miles south of the fire.

“Sheriff’s deputies knocked on the door at about 9 a.m. and told us to get all your most important belongings together,” he said. “There were no mandatory evacuations yet, but they told us to be on the alert.”

Hildebrand, who was home with his wife Nancy, said he has a wife and a daughter who attends Gilroy High School.

“She’s at school today. A lot of her friends called to check on her. We got a lot of calls from people we know in town.”

Dave Peterson, owner of the Corralitos Market, said his business is located seven miles from the fire.

“It’s pretty smoky around here, with ashes floating in the air like snow,” he said, resisting the joke about his market’s specialty, which is smoked meats.

The atmosphere at the market, Peterson said, is warm and friendly.

“It seems like Corralitos has always been the hub where everybody’s meeting,” he said. “Everybody’s gathering now, talking on cell phones, even plugging in their phones for recharging, hugging each other, getting news from each other. It’s a little community, everybody’s taking care of everybody.”

Shelters are available at Mt. Madonna County Park, C.T. English Middle School in Los Gatos, the Los Gatos Community Center and Santa Cruz and Santa Clara county fairgrounds. Both fairgrounds have shelter for horses and other animals, and residents with animals who need to evacuate can bring them with them.

Kenneth Kim, 66, stood on a ridge overlooking Maymen Flats, and peered through binoculars to see how his house was faring. 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.”

More on this developing story will be posted throughout the day.

To purchase any of our videos contact Online Editor Christopher Quirk at (408) 847-7240.

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