The declaration enables the county to seek reimbursement by the state and federal government and streamlines some emergency responses, according to the proclamation.
It's still too early to know if any or how many structures have burned, said County Manager Mike Callagy. The fire was too intense and the smoke too thick for firefighters to get any damage estimates, he said, adding that he hoped to have more information available later on Wednesday, after The Almanac went to press. Check almanacnews.com for the latest information.
The fires had burned 10,000 acres and were 0% contained as of the most recent update available from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) at 7:40 a.m. on Aug. 19. The three largest fires were located in southern San Mateo County and were 3,000 acres each as of Wednesday morning, while two smaller fires were burning in Santa Cruz County, just south of the San Mateo County border.
Go to fire.ca.gov/incidents for the latest updates.
Fire officials ordered evacuations in parts of Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties. Mandatory evacuations in San Mateo County as of Wednesday included the South Skyline Boulevard area near state Highway 9; Russian Ridge Open Space Reserve Area; Middleton Tract Area; Portola Redwoods State Park and the Portola Heights community area; Loma Mar and Dearborn Park area; Pescadero Creek County Park area; Butano community area; and the Butano State Park area, including the Barranca Knolls community, according to Cal Fire. While about 1,000 people had been evacuated from San Mateo County, there were between 20,000 and 25,000 people who had been evacuated over the county border in Santa Cruz County, Callagy said.
The town of Los Altos Hills issued a message to residents on Wednesday that a fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains was burning in a southeast direction into Boulder Creek and toward Ben Lomond. The fire was located at the Highway 9 and Bear Creek Road intersection in Santa Cruz County, about 3.5 miles from the Santa Clara County border. An increase in winds could push the fire toward the community of Ben Lomond, Scotts Valley and the Santa Clara County line, the town noted.
The Santa Clara County Fire Department coordinates with Cal Fire, the county EOC, local law enforcement and fire partners, and the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services. The county fire department on Wednesday was preparing to issue evacuation orders through the EOC if the fire crossed into Santa Clara County.
The complex fires were threatening 6,000 structures as of Wednesday. The blazes also threaten about $1.5 billion in timber assets, according to San Mateo County documents.
No civilians had been injured as of Aug. 19, but three first responders suffered injuries, according to Cal Fire.
Because of the number of other fires happening in California, the force fighting the CZU August Lightning Complex Fires is primarily local, with firefighters on 48-hour shifts, Callagy said.
Supervisor Don Horsley, whose district includes the areas threatened by fire, talked about some of the emergency response efforts. Cal Fire helped to shut down local parks under threat and evacuate visitors. The county has also helped to evacuate hundreds of animals that live on threatened land.
Pescadero High School is being used as an evacuation center. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, the county is working to provide shelter to some displaced households in coastside hotels. About 100 people had so far been provided these accommodations, according to Callagy.
A number of roads were closed in San Mateo County: Pescadero Creek Road between Alpine and Cloverdale roads, Cloverdale Road between Pescadero Creek Road and Gazos Creek, Alpine Road between Pescadero Creek Road and Skyline Boulevard, Whitehouse Canyon Road at Highway 1, and Portola Heights Road at Skyline Boulevard.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has issued Spare the Air alerts through Sunday, Aug. 23, because of smoke from wildfires throughout the region that has created unhealthy air pollution. The Peninsula, Santa Clara Valley and Livermore Valley are expected to see the heaviest impacts from the smoke pollution, but impacts are possible throughout the Bay Area, according to the air district.
The air district is recommending that Bay Area residents stay inside if possible with windows and doors closed until smoke levels subside. Also, burning wood and other solid fuel is banned while the order is in effect, according to the air district.
Go to is.gd/airqualityupdate to get the latest air quality measurements by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
As of the county supervisors' meeting at noon on Aug. 19, county officials were still in the process of setting up a hotline to provide up-to-date, bilingual information for the public. They planned to expand the information provided on the county's crisis hotline at 211.
Low relative humidities and high temperatures, combined with limited resources, have fueled the fires, which started last weekend after an unusual and intense lightning storm hit the region.
Woodside, Portola Valley on alert
Despite the thick smoke, the wind patterns Wednesday indicated that the fire wasn't heading toward Midpeninsula communities with high fire danger, such as Portola Valley and Woodside.
Woodside Fire Protection District Chief Rob Lindner said Wednesday afternoon that, based on wind direction forecasts and current activity, he's not anticipating a need for evacuations within the fire district.
"We're not anticipating any need for evacuations based on short-term and long-term weather forecasts, but if that changes we need to make sure everyone is prepared," Lindner said.
Lindner grew up in San Mateo County and believes the complex fires are the largest fires on record here. He said the district for years has held wildfire seminars and conveyed to residents that "it's going to happen and you need to be prepared."
"Given that it's so close to us, it's time to be prepared," Lindner said. "It's time to think it can happen at any moment."
Woodside Town Manager Kevin Bryant told The Almanac in an email Wednesday that the town has activated its ham radio and Red Cross radio at Town Hall to keep other lines of communication open, and that the town is "strongly encouraging all residents to make sure they are enrolled in SMC Alert to receive the most up to date emergency information."
Bryant said that the town is coordinating with the fire district and San Mateo County Sheriff's Office about any possible future evacuations.
Portola Valley Mayor Jeff Aalfs said Wednesday that "people are definitely nervous."
"I don't think anyone is panicking, but they're clearly worried," he said. "People in town got some notices telling them nearby areas were evacuated so that was disconcerting."
The best resources for up-to-date information, Aalfs said, include Cal Fire's Twitter account, at twitter.com/CALFIRECZU, SMC alerts and town communications. Aalfs also touted Zonehaven, an online tool that allows people to see if their zone is being evacuated and which exit routes they can safely use. The platform was going to be used more broadly starting next month, but it's functional now. Visit smco.community.zonehaven.com to use the site.
With fire season well underway, Aalfs said the neighboring blazes serve as a reminder that residents should keep go bags ready in case a fire ever does lead to evacuations.
"Hopefully this is a wake-up call and not anything more than that, but it's time to take fire season seriously," he said.
Almanac Assistant Editor Heather Zimmerman contributed to this report.
This story contains 1292 words.
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