More residents allowed to return home as crews get better handle on CZU Lightning Complex fires

Amanda del Castillo Image
Saturday, September 5, 2020
CZU Lightning Complex: More residents allowed to return home
More than 6,300 people are allowed back into their homes as evacuation orders were reduced to warnings in parts of the Santa Cruz mountains.

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- There is progress to report for residents forced out by the CZU Lightning Complex fire, burning in both Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties.

More than 6,300 people were allowed back into their homes on Friday, as evacuation orders were reduced to warnings in parts of Bonny Doon and Boulder Creek in the Santa Cruz mountains.

RELATED: Bay Area fires: Latest news on size, containment

ABC7 News arrived to an eerie silence over Highway 9, as residents slowly made their way back into the mountains.

"We got home this afternoon," resident, Kathleen Stallworth said. "We've been in a motel for 16 days now."

Stallworth is one of many who only had two hours to evacuate. After 29 years of living in Boulder Creek, she said there was little fear, as she's learned to put her trust in first responders.

"I knew people were working and that they would save our house," she told ABC7 News. "There was no doubt in my mind."

App users: For a better experience, click here to view the full map in a new window

Residents returning to parts of Bonny Doon put up signs to thank the unofficial responding crews. ABC7 News told viewers about amateur brigades that formed to fight fires there.

Of course, not everyone's home was spared. Sky7 captured the widespread devastation.

At a 6 p.m. press conference, the Sheriff's Office confirmed the fire has already torched more than 1,400 structures across Santa Cruz county. Officials warned, if residents return to unsafe conditions, they should continue to keep away.

County Public Works Director Matt Machado explained colored tags, left by officials.

VIDEO: Eerie orange haze, ash blankets Santa Cruz neighborhood near CZU Complex Fire

Video from Santa Cruz shows a neighborhood shrouded in an eerie orange haze that looks like something out of a movie.

"Green means you can occupy, it's 100-percent ok. A red tag is a do not enter. A yellow tag is a partial occupy," Machado explained. "And there will be instructions with those yellow tags, to tell you which area you can occupy or even enter for that matter."

For the first time since evacuating, Wild Roots Market in Boulder Creek opened its doors to help those repopulating, replenish.

Store manager, Vanessa Russo explained that during the evacuation period, the store donated food to several organizations.

"Second Harvest Food Bank, as well as World Central Kitchen," she told ABC7 News. "We were also able to donate to the local fire department and got in connection with some local chefs from Santa Cruz that were able to provide food and cook food for evacuees and for first responders."

The store opened at 1 p.m. on Friday, but Russo said they'd be returning to regular store hours beginning Saturday.

RELATED: This mask is good for smoke, bad for COVID-19: Here's the fix

"We are fully prepared for the rush," she said. "And we welcome the rush because that means our community is coming back together."

Wild Roots was fully stocked with essential goods and gallons of water to get residents through the on-going do not drink, do not boil notice as well.

"That's not a big deal, compared to what other people are going through," resident Layne Mcree stopped to tell ABC7 News, as he was grabbing groceries. "You know, it's okay that we have to replenish our food."

Mcree, understanding he's fortunate his home is still standing.

The sheriff's office said more than 1,800 residents remain under evacuation orders.

PHOTOS: New images show scope of wildfires' devastation, as major complexes ravage state

1 of 78
Following the LNU Lightning Complex fires, a sign reading "Vaca Strong" adorns a charred hillside in Vacaville, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 24, 2020.
AP Photo/Noah Berger