Loma Fire in Santa Cruz Mountains grows to 2,865 acres, evacuations lifted

WATSONVILLE, Calif. (KGO) -- At least 1,000 firefighters are still battling the Loma Fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains, which has grown to 2,865 acres since it broke out Monday. So far, the fire is only 22 percent contained.

Evacuations were lifted Wednesday afternoon for all Santa Cruz County residents, but road closures remain in effect for non-residents.

PHOTOS: Crews battle brush fire in Santa Cruz Mountains

Firefighters have sent in reinforcements for the fire. "We were at 500 on Monday, yesterday we were at 800, today we're over 1,000. It doesn't matter what patch is on the side of a person's fire engine or a uniform. It's a single fire service and it's a single mission to fight this fire," said CAL FIRE Battalion Chief Jonathan Cox.

The official count for destroyed or damaged homes remains at two, with an additional six out-buildings destroyed. CAL FIRE says that number could go up. "Obviously right now right now our priority is the life and the property and to stop this fire. Then we'll go back and count those," said Cox.

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At this point it's a waiting game for many residents who have been forced out of their homes. While the past three days have been difficult for residents, they're trying to keep their spirits up and are grateful that they were able to make it out alive.

Deann Hamernick and Timothy Gaffney are neighbors in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Gaffney chose to stay in his house as the Loma Fire burned only a half mile away. "The flames were huge, like 400 feet high," he said.

Hamernick left on day two of the fire. "When I was driving off, they dumped a whole pink thing on my truck. I can't even see out of it. That's what you get for staying when they evacuate you," he said.

Cooler weather enabled firefighters to use a tactic called a firing operation where they spark their own fire at the top of a hill. "We'll let the fire burn down slowly to where the fire's burning down below. If the fire were to come up the hill on its own, it'd be much more intense," CAL FIRE Cpt. Jordan Motta said.

The operation sent a massive new plume of smoke into the air.

The reservoir is also where firefighting helicopters are picking up water to drop on the fire lines.

Some residents affected by the fire gathered at an open space preserve off Casa Loma Road. "Keeping our fingers crossed, those guys are doing a good job. I mean, they're moving," evacuee Doreenann Bellamy said.

Bellamy has lived in the Santa Cruz Mountains for nearly 25 years and is among those who have been evacuated from their homes. "We had a truck come by and yelling on the loud speaker, 'evacuate, evacuate,'" Bellamy said.

Video from Sky7 showed some of the rocky terrain that crews have been facing on the fire lines. "They're having access issues to get equipment in, you would think that you could just drive a dozer in and make a road, but it's not that simple. There are certain areas where a dozer doesn't work, so that's why we bring in the hand crews," CAL FIRE Battalion Chief Scott Mclean said.

Some people ABC7 News spoke with at at the First Street Coffee House in Gilroy said they feel bad for the residents affected by the Loma Fire. "Your heart just goes out to them and you want to do what you can," owner Konni Thomas said.

Thomas is part of a volunteer group that's been collecting donations and even providing free coffee to first responders and evacuees. "If that just happened to me and if I were coming down from there worrying about my animals or things like that, I just wanted to do what I thought I'd want," she said.

It may be a simple gesture, but one that hasn't gone unnoticed.

Bellamy had a sincere message for crews fighting the Loma Fire. "I don't want to see anybody getting hurt, you know, our houses are not worth somebody's life, flat out bottom line," she said.

RELATED: Horses, alpacas evacuated from Santa Cruz Mountains

Firefighters are working 24 hour shifts and they are hoping to have the fire contained by Monday.

For evacuees who want to get their large animals out of harm's way, two centers have been set up to take them in. Horses can be taken to the Graham Hill Showgrounds in Santa Cruz or the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Watsonville.

If you have other animals, please call ahead to see if they can take them.

Evacuations have been lifted for Santa Cruz County residents.

Road closures:
Rancho Prieta Road
Loma Prieta Way
Pacific Rim

Mt. Bachi Road
Summit Road
Haven Hill Lane
Ormsby Cutoff/Trail

Click here for full coverage on the Loma Fire.

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