SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - The massive CZU Lightning Complex fire has ravaged Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties. Many residents have evacuated and are safe. But others are missing.
The number of people unaccounted for in Santa Cruz County has gone up, authorities said Tuesday.
"We did have three new cases come in yesterday that our detectives are working through So that brigs our total to seven," said Chris Clark, chief deputy with the Santa Cruz County sheriff's office.
In the best-case scenario, people reported missing from the CZU fire may not know that they're missing. They could have escaped the flames and are now staying with friends or checked into a hotel, without telling loved ones.
But that possibility dwindles as each day passes, with no sign of those who are missing.
Authorities say the unfortunate reality is, at least some of the seven now missing in Santa Cruz County may have died from the fire, but that their remains haven't been found or removed from the scene or positively identified.
"So seven total missing persons cases that we're going to be going through to make sure that we know where those folks are," Clark said.
It took several days for investigators to recover the remains of 73-year-old Tad Jones, who was reported missing last week from his home on Last Chance Road in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
"We've spoken to his family," Clark said. "He was a Last Chance resident, and there will be an autopsy pending to determine the cause of death there."
According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Jones was a Vietnam War veteran who survived a fire in 2009. At that time, he said he had not spoken since 1976, after he met a silent monk and began living in the woods to practice silence.
A neighbor who found Jones' body told KTVU that the victim was a "amazing man, a good part of the community and well-loved." That neighbor also lost his home.