CZU Fire: Evacuees return to devastation, long road to recovery

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SCOTTS VALLEY, Calif. (KRON) – Even as firefighters work to fully contain the historic wildfires, the extent of damage is becoming painfully clear.

In the Santa Cruz mountains, many residents face a long recovery as crews are trying to clear damaged roads for still other crews to cut down trees and get the power back on.

The evacuation order has been lifted here in much of the San Lorenzo Valley, but Highway 9 is closed on the way to Boulder Creek and some of the hardest hit areas where most of the recovery effort is focused right now. 

Downtown Boulder Creek on Tuesday, still under evacuation orders, heading up Highway 236, toward Big Basin State Park, it’s clear why it may be weeks rather than days before the orders are fully lifted.  

The fire’s devastating path begins a mile or two out of town.  Dozens of homes burned to the ground.  Whole neighborhoods are gone. The damage includes scores of cars, trucks and other equipment.  

The redwood studded forest has suffered heavy damage.  Utility poles burned along with the trees.  

Damage assessment teams are marking trees, thousands of them, that will have to come down to make the area safe.

Cal Fire Cecile Juliette says, “The hazards are many as we’ve been discussing and people are getting the message for sure. There are many trees that are dangerous. They burn from the inside, some don’t even look like they’re dangerous, but we call them widowmakers, they can fall at any time.”

Deeper into Big Basin, the randomness of the fire is more clear as one passes areas that seem untouched, only to find more devastation around the next curve.  Road and utility crews too are focused on assessing and clearing away debris. 

The highway is down to one lane in some places.  There are damaged water lines. Lots of hidden hazards.

Juliette adds, “There are bridges that have been compromised, asphalts that melted in the heat. The water that’s another issue that’s being taken care of by local water districts. So there are many hazards out there that people maybe don’t understand that can happen to an area that’s been hit by wildrie.” 

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