Santa Cruz Mt. fires burn closer to homes

5/22/2008 KFSN The fire began early Thursday morning.

Several homes have already burned and the Governor has declared a state of the emergency.

Helicopters and bombers are trying to put out flames as thick, white smoke is pouring out of the canyons.

The fire is burning in the mountains south of Santa Cruz and north of Gilroy.

There are several communities in the area, but it's not heavily populated.

The fairgrounds in Watsonville are being used as a Red Cross evacuation center. Nearly 200 residents and 200 children who were at a mountain summer camp have been evacuated.

Meanwhile, thousands of people are dealing with the poor air quality caused by the smoke that's still billowing out of the mountains.

Dozens of residents in the small town of Corralitos had to evacuate quickly.

"I went outside and there was orange billowing smoke and big thick pieces of ash coming down. So I started telling son, let's get this stuff in the car," said Angela Alatorre, Evacuee.

Angela Alatorre grabbed some photo albums and clothes, but in the rush she left her dog and everything else behind.

"I have kids, little kids, and it was really scary. And once I got down here, my neighbors were like 'you can't go back,' and I couldn't take my kids back there to grab anything because the smoke was so thick and the wind was so, so strong. I was afraid something could happen to them," said Angela.

While Corralitos residents waited to return home, hundreds of firefighters continued battling the blaze from the ground and the air. But thick brush and narrow roads have made it a difficult job. Firefighters from around the state have arrived to help, but many from the Central Valley delayed sending strike teams because of several local grass fires.

An inmate crew was just released from the Avocado lake fire in Fresno County this morning. They stopped at the El Nido Cal Fire Station before heading to Monterey to cover for firefighters there who were called to help fight the summit fire. Merced Fire Chief Ken Mitten says it's all part of the mutual aid system that's designed specifically for times like these.

"It's all part of a planned system, and it works really well. It's just a phone call away and we work very good within this plan to bring resources where we need," said Chief Ken Mitten.

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