Fires erupt within CZU Lightning Complex area as officials warn of heat, more danger

CalFire crews on Memorial Day first responded to a small fire within the CZU Lightning Complex burn in Santa Cruz County, as officials warned the public about hot temperatures and more fire danger to come. 

Named the "Grade Fire" burning near China Grade Road and the North Butano Truck Trail, Cal Fire said the blaze was contained just after noon on Monday.

Luckily the slow-moving fire only grew to 7.5 acres before firefighters were able to contain the blaze.

The high heat and low humidity is at least partially to blame for a wildfire.

Although the fire was small, it’s also a significant reminder the seasons may change, but the fire danger is constant.

"We always wanna prepare for that and make sure we’re ready to go," said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Valerie Watts, who works the San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit.

Officials said wildfire cameras captured smoke within the CZU burn scare area. Seven acres of brush burned a hillside on a day when temperatures rose into the mid-80s.

"With the minimal amount of rain we got this winter, the potential for continued fire hazards in those areas is very high," said Chief Watts. Added Dr. Craig Clements, "It’s not unusual for getting into late may for a small fire like that to occur."

Clements heads San Jose State University’s Fire Research Center. He said this year, hillsides are browning months earlier. And burn areas, such as the CZU Lightning Complex, are still capable of catching fire.

Experts believe cyclical droughts are becoming deeper, increasing fire danger to a year round reality.

"It’s getting kind of concerning in the fact that fire season is starting earlier, and it’s ending later. And it’s almost becoming year-round for parts of the state," said Clements.

Fire officials said three engines, a water tender, and ground crews responded to the small fire that they believe started with garbage burning on a hillside, although the official cause is still unknown.

"Just be diligent. Utilize common sense. And we’re hoping for a safe fire season," said Watts.

One firefighter suffered an ankle serious enough for him to be taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital.

Hours after the Grade Fire was contained, a second fire sparked in the CZU burn area. The latest fire burned 2 acres near the Hihn Hammond Truck Trail.

Cal Fire said the new fire is not connected to the earlier blaze that ignited.

The fires are two that public health officials pointed to as examples of urging residents to stay hydrated, find shade, and take breaks to avoid heat exhaustion as temperatures soar across much of central and northern California.

San Francisco could see temperatures in the 80s while inland areas such as Livermore and Antioch could top 100 degrees as a high pressure system builds to Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.

With the soaring temperatures comes an increased risk of wildfires in the state where vegetation is extremely dry after a winter and spring with relatively little rain and snow.

California’s power grid operator said Saturday it’s not anticipating energy supply outages during the heatwave.

There’s enough electricity to serve the expected spike in demand, California Independent System Operator said in a statement, but it will monitor the grid closely in case it needs to call on the public to conserve.

ISO has said the state is better prepared to avoid last summer’s rotating blackouts.