SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - Flames from the CZU Lightning Fire has destroyed years of hard work planting Christmas trees on a beloved farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Owners of the Crest Ranch in Bonny Doon plan to rebuild after losing a majority of their inventory.
The Crest Ranch Christmas Tree Farm has been around for families to enjoy since 1948. The owners haven’t fully assessed the damage but know it's significant and whether they'll be able to reopen remains to be seen.
At the top of Ben Lomond Mountain above Santa Cruz and overlooking a smoky Boulder Creek lies Crest Ranch, one of the oldest Christmas tree farms on the West Coast.
“So many people look forward to that special family time,” said Owner Louise Moran. “It doesn't happen too much anymore nowadays.”
Countless families make it an annual tradition to choose and cut Christmas trees at the ranch. There are 45 acres, more than 15 varieties of them. This season is uncertain after devastating damage from the CZU Lightning Fire.
“We were certainly frightened especially we looked out our driveway and we saw flames, the sky lit up,” said Moran.
Video taken from Moran’s son-in-law, Ben Gillum, showed flames coming up the hillside and the majority of their Christmas trees catching fire.
“Across the street from me I could hear this thunderous roar,” said Gillum. “I look out the window and there was this wall of flames coming at me.”
Gillum worked with firefighters to save the ranch and protect homes until the last minute. Four generations of the Moran family live on the farm. Gillum had finished building a home a month ago that was not yet insured.
“I wasn't ready to see it all go down,” said Gillum.
Moran and her husband went back up to the ranch on Saturday. They estimate 80 percent of their 35,000 Christmas trees are gone. Moran’s father’s home was also destroyed.
Fire crews were able to make a fire break and save some trees.
The plan now is to replant more trees which could take five to 10 years to grow. Moran is not sure when the ranch will reopen but hoping to bring it back to life soon.
“We treasure our customers,” said Moran. “We treasure the experience. We love the opportunity. We are not going to let that die. We want to continue this and it’s a treasure in so many different ways.”
Long-time friends established a Go Fund Me that’s raised more than $18,000. Customers through the years have been donating, hoping the business is able to survive the fire.
If you’d like to help: https://www.gofundme.com/f/crestranchfire