SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, Calif. - The fourth day of the Bear Fire is a day for thanks. Winds are down, humidity up, and a quarter-inch of rain fell overnight.
"It makes a big difference in the conditions firefighters are working under at that time. and so, it makes it a lot easier to get a lot of work done when the moisture is high...because the fire just kind of lays down, and things get really calm," said firefighter Angela Bernheisel, a spokeswoman for CalFire.
That calm was shattered late Thursday afternoon by the sound of gunfire in the one-hundred block of Hartman Creek Road.
"We had deputies in the area who were providing security for folks who had been evacuated from the bear fire. they responded as fast as they could," said sergeant Chris Clark, a spokesman for the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office.
Deputies say Bernard Haagenson, Michael Carter, and Blake Geithner accused a couple sitting in a car near their property of stealing marijuana from an illegal grow operation at that site. The trio was arrested after one of them grabbed a shotgun, and fired several blasts at the car. Jason Dixon and Nicole Papineau, the targets of the shooting who say they were looking for a lost dog, were arrested for being inside a closed disaster area due to firefighting operations.
"Obviously the safety of the firefighters is a concern. and ah, wanting to keep them safe, and that's why we had to come in to try and figure out what was going on there," said Sgt. Clark.
While the five people from that case were booked into the county jail, firefighters say the gunfire didn't impact over-all firefighting operations. They've gained the upper hand in this firefight, and have begun removing some personnel. The Bear Fire is holding at 320 acres, but, containment is up to 40-percent and growing. Rains overnight have helped, and have not produced a risk of mudslides.
"When I was at mass on sunday, all the nuns were praying for rain. so, I think our prayers have been answered. I hope that we will get more," said U.S. Rep. Anna Eschoo (D-CA 14th Dist.), as she toured the expanded fire operations center at the Felton Fire Station in Santa Cruz County.
Officials hope to allow more evacuated residents to return to their homes over the weekend, as 40-percent containment eventually turns into a tap-out of this fire. They're hopeful that happens sooner rather than later, as the next weather system moving in next week is supposed to send temperatures back into the upper 80s, and could once again produce a high fire danger.