Evacuees find escape route blocked

May 29, 2008 6:59:14 PM PDT
There is controversy over a barrier that blocked an escape route from the Summit Fire.

With the fire raging, some neighbors in the Santa Cruz Mountains felt their safest way out would be up Highland Way to Summit Road.

But Santa Cruz County had barricaded highland about three miles in, because of a landside.

In the morning of the fire, people didn't have a lot of access to information, so they looked at the big picture. They knew the fire was moving south and the people the lived on Highland Way and Eureka Canyon Road knew they didn't want to go out in front of the flames.

So they headed up on Summit Road and Highway 17, but they were going to run straight into an obstacle.

The first firefighters on the scene of the summit fire spoke at Thursday's Emergency Board of Supervisors meeting. They talked about the gusty winds and other obstacles they faced one week ago.

Meanwhile, new information reveals Corralitos residents trying to escape the flames on Highland Way to Summit Road, faced their own obstacle.

"I believe they were those rails that may have also pushed dirt into the road to prevent cars from going thru the area," said CAL FIRE Battalion Chief Dave Shew.

According to firefighters, several residents lined up on Highland Way on the morning of Thursday, May 22nd.

A landslide during a winter storm in 2006 crumpled half the road. The county put up road closed signs but residents still drove on it to save time on their commute to Highway 17.

A year ago, the county put up a barricade.

"It was a very time consuming process and I know it was very frustrating to the residents of the area," said Director of Public Works Thomas Bolich.

Firefighters finally bulldozed the barricade and let the line of cars through. But why would the locals, who know this road is barricaded even try to drive up highland way?

"People on the north end and the west end of the fire knew that they didn't want to drive in front of fire flames. So by going to the north, that was, even though that was going to keep them from leaving entirely, they knew it was getting more away from the main fire fronts," said Shew.

In the end, the delay in repair was about money and FEMA.

The county applied for financial help from FEMA. The permits and application process took this long and the county had to do it because it didn't have enough money to fix it on its own.

"The solution that we came up with was just over a $1 million, a $1 million. And our budget just couldn't absorb 75 to 80 percent that would be funded by the Federal government by FEMA," said Bolich.

Firefighters say a barricade did not hamper fire suppression efforts. As for the road itself, the county said they are going to keep the road closed signs, but they are not going to replace the barricades.

They expect to start construction on the road in July, and hope to have it done by the fall.


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