Santa Cruz fires grow, despite breaks

The blaze is located in the Santa Cruz mountains
May 24, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Firefighters took advantage of cooler temperatures and calmer winds Saturday as they continued to fight a persistent wildfire in the Santa Cruz Mountains that has chewed through acres of centuries-old redwoods, destroyed at least 17 homes and displaced hundreds of people. Fire officials said they had contained about 25 percent of the blaze, which has grown to about 5 square miles and jumped over the Santa Cruz County line, said Wayne Rhoten, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention. The fire had destroyed 28 structures. Another 500 buildings were threatened.

Almost 2,000 residents remained under evacuation orders - more than 450 of them mandatory - while almost 2,700 firefighters and a swarm of tanker planes and helicopters continued dousing the area, said Dave Shew, a battalion chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. One firefighter suffered minor heat-related injuries.

Smoke from the wildfire left a haze over the San Francisco Bay area that was expected to linger through the Memorial Day weekend.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger visited the Santa Cruz Mountains Friday to assess the damage and declared a state of emergency in Santa Cruz County to allow access to funds for the effort.

Shew said the cost of battling the blaze has risen to about $1.7 million and he expects the containment effort to continue through the weekend. "It's going to take a little time to build 9 miles of line with manual labor," Shew said.

Officials were investigating the cause of the fire, which was first reported Thursday morning in the mountain range that separates Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties. The area, about 15 miles south of San Jose, is rural but dotted with homes.

"I feel a great sadness in my heart for everybody who is involved in this event," said Kenneth Rich whose house was lost. "It's devastating."

To the south, the stormy weather in Southern California that got the Memorial Day weekend off to a soggy start was expected to continue through Saturday before clearing, said Stuart Seto, a weather specialist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.


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