CZU fire more destructive than 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake

Officials said the CZU Lightning Complex fire in the Santa Cruz mountains has caused more destruction to homes in the county than the last great disaster, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

At last check, the fire has destroyed more than 925 homes. Past and present Santa Cruz County supervisors are not surprised the numbers rival that of the Loma Prieta earthquake and like the earthquake, rebuilding could take years.

Two weeks fighting the CZU Lightning Complex fire, containment is creeping to 46 percent. So far, more than 85,000 acres have burned.

The fire destroyed 925 homes and damaged 90 more homes. County supervisors said that’s more destruction than the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989.

“The earthquake was bad,” said Boulder Creek Evacuee Don Long. “I think this has probably got it topped.”

The 6.9-magnitude earthquake caused houses in Boulder Creek to slide from their foundations, some down the hillside. In Watsonville, tent cities sprang up to help thousands displaced. There’s similar anxiety and disruption to lives then and now.

“It’s hard to think about people when they have no place to go and they have to start over,” said Boulder Creek Evacuee Darlene Wall.

Evacuees are staying at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds. At its peak, the shelter housed 800 people. 

One home destroyed belonged to fire fighter Ludovic Deshayes.

“All the propane tanks just exploding next to you, houses on fire, flames everywhere,” said Deshayes. “We tried to save houses. We tried really hard.”

His rental home in Boulder Creek burned to the ground as the seasonal firefighter was fighting the CZU fire. Deshayes was able to save his wife's favorite sculpture. His wife and children are now staying at a hotel in Santa Cruz.  

“She did not have time to take anything with her and we pretty much lost everything,” said Deshayes.

“This is much broader devastation over a larger area and a lot more single family homes destroyed,” said Santa Cruz County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty.

Coonerty was a teen when the Loma Prieta earthquake happened. He’s hoping to take lessons learned from the quake, remembering most how people act after a disaster.

“In both cases, I’ve seen the community really pull together to help one another even in the midst of a pandemic,” said Coonerty.

The county is hoping to fast track the permitting process so homeowners can start to rebuild right away.