'I want to go home': Residents given all-clear to return home but limited power, water and cell service keeping them away

Amanda del Castillo Image
Tuesday, September 8, 2020
Limited power, water keeping residents from returning home after Santa Cruz Co. wildfire
Residents in parts of the Santa Cruz Mountains who were evacuated during the CZU Lightning Complex Fire were recently received the green light to return home. However, many are staying away since there is limited power, cell service and access to water.

BOULDER CREEK, Calif. (KGO) -- Limited power, cell service and access to water are causing frustration for residents in parts of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Many residents evacuated in the CZU Lightning Complex Fire recently received the green light to return home. However, now they're asking, what's the point?

"It is very frustrating," Robert Autrand told ABC7 News. "I want to go home."

The fire forced Autrand and his family from their Boulder Creek home, weeks ago.

RELATED: What we know about LNU, CZU, SCU complex fires in Santa Cruz, Napa, Sonoma, San Mateo counties and beyond

They finally got the all-clear to return, but quickly realized current living conditions leave a lot to be desired.

"There's no internet, no water. No power. We couldn't do anything," he said. "So, we decided, we're out."

Autrand continued, "We couldn't stay there. We'd have to leave every night or something."

Late Monday, the San Lorenzo Valley Water District lifted its on-going Do Not Drink, Do Not Boil water notice for more than 2,684 customers

District Manager Rick Rogers said 500 remain under the order, and of those homes, 354 are without any water connection.

VIDEO: Rush to restore miles of destroyed pipelines, concerns over possible water contamination

Seven miles of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) pipeline have been melted, destroyed by the CZU Lightning Complex Fire, prompting concerns of water contamination.

ABC7 News told viewers about the 7-miles of pipeline damaged by fire, and the loss of water storage tanks throughout the district.

On Monday, water distribution stations were set up to serve residents who have decided to return, including Mary Ann Hinckle.

"We don't even have water service at our house," Hinckle said. "Our house is half-burned as we lost two other homes completely to the ground. This is the only water we have."

Resident Brian Garrahan witnessed similar devastation up close. Early video captured Garrahan on the night Boulder Creek was evacuated, clearing brush to save homes.

Now, he's taken on a temporary job with the San Lorenzo Valley Water District, laying pipe and helping to restore water.

"I can't move back in until I have water," he explained. "So I mean, I figured by helping the water company, if I can get the water system going sooner, then we can all go back in, move in and enjoy life again."

Garrahan said crews worked over the long holiday weekend. He anticipates residents will soon see changes because of the constant improvement.

"I don't think that it's going to be that much longer for the water to get back on be honest with you," he shared.

VIDEO: Photos show scope of Bay Area wildfires' devastation

See scenes from the LNU Lightning Complex Fire and other fires burning in the Bay Area this month.

"A lot of lines got burned. So we're laying lines in sections, and then from the sections, we're branching off and hooking up to the residences that were affected," Garrahan explained.

All the residents who spoke with ABC7 News admit it'll be some time until Boulder Creek is back to a familiar "normal."

"The fire is still going on. There's still a lot of danger of trees. There's still a lot of utility vehicles out in the roads fixing water, fixing power," Garrahan said. "So a lot, a lot of stuff's happening."

For Robert Autrand, he doesn't plan to return until power is restored. According to a text message he received from PG&E, his family's time away could total one month.

The alert read: "PG&E Alert: Crew is investigating the outage in your area. Expect restored Sep 19 @ 8:00pm. We'll provide more info when available."

"I'm like, 'Oh my God,' that's two weeks away," Autrand shared.

Ironically, the Autrands are staying in Belmont, in an area that temporarily lost power Monday night.

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