UMs from Watsonville, Aptos evacuate as firefighters battle massive blaze

May 23, 2008

A weather shift may assist firefighters battling an enormous fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The fire, which has caused some families from Aptos and Watsonville United Methodist Churches to flee their homes, stood at only 20 percent containment on Friday morning (May 23) – but Cal Fire Battalion Chief Dave Shew told the Santa Cruz Sentinel the overnight shift in wind direction to the south, along with cooler temperatures, high humidity, and fog may be the combination needed to allow firefighters to make progress.

The blaze is the largest wildfire in recent Santa Cruz County history. It began early on Thursday, May 22 in Santa Clara County and by evening had already blackened nearly 3,200 acres. At least 10 homes have been destroyed.
 
The 2002 Croy Fire in Santa Clara County burned 3,127 acres, including 31 homes and 15 other buildings.
 
The Rev. Robin Mathews-Johnson, pastor of First UMC in Watsonville, reports that a number of families from her church and Community UMC in Aptos are under voluntary evacuation.
 
“In Watsonville it is very smoky and ash is coming from the skies,” she said. “The local schools in Watsonville have been closed and will not reopen until next week.
 
“We ask for continued prayers for all those impacted by the fire.”
 
The rural and mountainous landscape of the region makes it susceptible to the threat of wildfire – a situation exacerbated by 20 percent below normal rainfall in recent years. There has been no official word as to the cause of this fire, which officials say was pushed over the mountain ridges into the canyons of Santa Cruz County by north- and east-blowing winds.
 
Those winds were not a factor in 1985, when the Lexington Reservoir Fire consumed 14,000 acres and 42 buildings in Santa Clara County but did not jump the ridge.
 
Information for this story courtesy the Santa Cruz Sentinel and staff writers Kurtis Alexander and Shanna McCord, at www.santacruzsentinel.com.