Locals band together to save homes in Santa Cruz County as firefighters are stretched thin

Bay Area

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, Calif. (KRON) – With firefighters stretched thin during the early days of the CZU Lightning Complex fires, a few locals ignored evacuation orders to try to save their homes in their communities.

One man says he and a group of friends were able to keep more than two dozen homes in Bonny Doon from being destroyed.

In tee shirts and ball caps, Santa Cruz mountain locals pump water onto the burning forest in an effort to save their homes.  

Video shot by Ben Lomand native Cuyler Ruskin says he drove down from where he lives now in Reno after hearing about the CZU Lightning Complex fires threatening the Bonny Doon home of his best friend.

“Immediately when I went to Bonny Doon it was just greenlighted, anything we could do to get the flames to go away,” Ruskin said. 

Ruskin says he was part of an eight-man squad who in the course of five days used whatever equipment they could get their hands on and a local’s knowledge of the land to help create a perimeter and douse flames.

He says together they were able to save his friend’s house and many more.

“Without what we did the 26 to 30 homes that we saved would’ve burned to the ground because there was no one there to help in any way shape or form,” Ruskin said.

He’s not knocking Cal Fire, he knows crews were spread very thin because so many fires burning in California but even though Cal Fire has been challenged here by a lack of resources, they still don’t encourage people to ignore the evacuation order.

“That hampers our ability to get around the different neighborhoods because they could be blocking the road that we need to get to and it changes our focus from fighting the fire to now protecting them because our number one priority is preserving life over the property,” Cal Fire PIO Daniel Potter said.

Ruskin says some of his crew were off duty firefighters and they were even able to help supply water to the official crews they ran into. 

“It wasn’t just a bunch of hillbillies running around the mountains think it’s fun to drop trees and get in the way of Cal Fire,” Ruskin said.

Despite all of their efforts there was still a lot of heartbreak.

“I know that we could personally saved so many more homes if we had access to a radio in better communication even just to volunteer water trucks tenders in a few fire trucks along with our eight-man crew we could’ve saved the other 30 homes burned in front of our eyes,” Ruskin said.

He hopes that going forward, Cal Fire can find ways to equip and deputize willing locals so they can work together during extreme crisis situations.

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