Aug 21, 2020

CAL FIRE Press Conference Transcript August 21: CZU Lightning Complex Fires

Cal Fire Press Conference Transcript August 21: CZU Lightning Complex Fires
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsCAL FIRE Press Conference Transcript August 21: CZU Lightning Complex Fires

CAL FIRE held a press conference on August 21 to address the CZU Lightning Complex fires. Read the transcript of the update here.

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Deputy Chief Cox: (00:07)
Okay, good morning. This is the 6:00 AM press briefing for the CZU Lightening Complex here in San Mateo in Santa Cruz County. My name is Deputy Chief Jonathan Cox with Cal Fire San Mateo, Santa Cruz unit. We will have some time at the end for questions and answers like we usually do. Just run through the lineup from throughout the incident. Please remember if you do need to report live or take phone calls or long conversations, please go outside. With that, just a quick update on the fire progression and activity overnight. The fire is now 50,000 acres and we’re still sitting at 0% containment. We still have 50 structures that we can confirm have been destroyed. That number will go up. We do anticipate that to get into the triple digits as we go out there and field truth and verify what has actually been destroyed.

Deputy Chief Cox: (00:56)
We also have about 64,600 people who’ve been evacuated from the evacuation areas, 64,600. And we now have over 1000 firefighting personnel at scene 1,026. With that I’d like to pass it over to our operations section chief, who’s actually running the operations on the ground out there. Cal Fire Incident Management Team 3, Chief Brunton.

Chief Brunton: (01:28)
Good morning, overnight we experienced again more a significant fire behavior throughout the fire. We did see a little bit of a marine influence of some moisture air that came into the incident earlier in the evening, although that was short lived. And when it receded back, our fire conditions increased significantly. It is helping very much more on the western edge of the fire but on the eastern edge of the fire it’s not providing us the relief that we would like to see or would traditionally see with an onset of some marine layer incoming to the area. With that, we did experience again, more active fire on the eastern part of the fire. This did impact a number of the communities everywhere from Boulder Creek through Ben Lomond and further south. I’m sorry to say, there was more structural loss throughout the fire. Again, with the fire conditions, lack of resources we’re doing the best We absolutely can.

Chief Brunton: (02:27)
With that there were also a number of fantastic saves by our first responders, not only the firefighters, but our law enforcement brother and sisters assisting us in doing our job and being successful in that endeavor. One of the things that continues to hamper us, we do have the evacuations in place and they’re in place for a very good reason, not only for the public safety and the safety of our first responders, but with that, when people that do stay behind and do try to take matters in their own hands with trying to suppress fires, it creates a bigger issue for first responders in that this. Those that stay and we had last night three separate rescues that pooled our vital, very few resources away to have to rescue those individuals because they put themselves in parallel.

Chief Brunton: (03:12)
They’re not trained firefighters. And I know they’re trying to do the right thing for their property and their neighbors, but in the long run, it’s created a bigger problem for the first responders. Because of that it took our firefighters away from the firefight to rescue them and put our first responders, our firefighters and our law enforced brothers, sisters into some danger to rescue them out of that situation. So we ask, if you have been evacuated, please evacuate. Do not put yourself in that situation. Do not put our first responders into that situation. Thank you.

Deputy Chief Cox: (03:44)
Speaking next from the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s office, is Chief Deputy Clark.

Chief Deputy Clark: (03:52)
Good morning. So I want to touch on kind of what we did last night in terms of our progress, and then a couple other things for people that are displaced right now with regards to a little bit of a timeframe. Because people might be wondering that as well as pets or animals. So first, starting with last night, we continued through the evacuation of City of Scotts Valley. Again, I mentioned yesterday that the population of that area about 12,000 people. So we’re nearly done with that this morning and again, that area is everything west of Highway 17. And so we’re nearly done with that. We used about 76 people to do that last night. And then once we get done with that, for us really, it’s transitioning to a certain extent to where all of our folks are going to be dedicated to security, so long as this fire doesn’t change and we have to somehow move into a different area for any other future or potential evacuation.

Chief Deputy Clark: (04:47)
So later today, as soon as the evacuations are complete here in Scotts Valley, we’re going to move basically 93 people are going to be spread out. 93 officers and deputies spread out throughout the Valley, throughout Scotts Valley to do roving patrols and that sort of thing, to make sure that that people’s homes are safe and that we’re keeping an eye on anyone who decides that they want to come up here for the wrong reasons. And so I just reiterate what Chief [inaudible 00:05:16] said, there’s no reason to come back into an evacuated area. Again, Cal Fire is doing the absolute best they can to stop this fire. And so by coming back into an evacuation zone, like you heard, it draws them away from their job. It also draws us away from potentially looking for people and evacuating people that we need to.

Chief Deputy Clark: (05:37)
Last night, we did get a couple calls with regards to suspicious vehicles, but again, we’ve got people that are up there that are looking for those folks and looking for anyone else that might be driving around looking to potentially burglarize a home.

Chief Deputy Clark: (05:51)
In terms of timeframe, I want to bring this up because I could imagine that if you’re displaced by this fire, you might be wondering how long am I going to be away from my home? And I don’t want to give any false hope here because it’s a dynamic situation that this fire is not contained. And so, what would I tell my loved one? It could be potentially weeks, depending on what this fire does. So I throw that out there in the sense that if people are wondering how soon can I get back, it could be potentially weeks. And that’s all dependent upon what the fire does.

Chief Deputy Clark: (06:24)
The last thing I want to touch on real quick is just animals. Because maybe somebody wants to come back into an evacuation zone because maybe they forgot a pet. Maybe there’s something like that, that they be like, “I have to go back. I have to go back.” I want to give you Animal Control’s phone number. And so what we can do is we can potentially assist Animal Control and going up and doing a sort of a rescue on a pet. And so I want to give you that number. And that’s (831) 471-1182 (831) 471-1182 with regards to animals. Thank you.

Deputy Chief Cox: (07:01)
This fire is obviously burning in two counties. Speaking next from the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office is Detective Blankswade.

Det. Blankswade: (07:11)
Good morning. So for San Mateo County overnight, we had law enforcement officers from multiple agencies going door to door and making the announcements of the evacuation. Thank you to our mutual aid partners who assisted with that. As a recap, the evacuation zones are every town that is west of 35, all the way up to Highway 1. We did see a lot of cars leaving last night, and we appreciate those people who did that. We want to make sure that we have personnel who are able to direct the resources accordingly and be able to save the properties as much as possible. Unfortunately, we were seeing a lot of cars still coming in, and we’re asking everybody to avoid coming into these coastal towns and using these routes so that we can leave them open for the people who are trying to get out, as well as the first responders.

Det. Blankswade: (07:57)
The Half Moon Bay High School evacuation point is now full. So we’re asking everybody, especially people with RVs or trailers or large animals to go to the San Mateo Events Center. And we also have spot fires throughout this region in South County and fires on both sides of Highway 1. We also want to let everybody know that our hearts are with everybody who’s impacted by this. We understand what you’re going through. These are our neighbors. These are our friends. These are our families, and we’re with you on this mission. And we want to let you know that we’re doing everything that we can to protect our dear communities. Thank you.

Deputy Chief Cox: (08:38)
Next up is one of the Unified Incident Commanders for the actual incident itself, Incident Management Team 3 IC Billy See.

Billy See: (08:50)
Hi. Good morning. Last night we obviously reported out 48,000 acres. This morning at 50,000 acres, 64,000 plus residents have been evacuated. Obviously last night, I talked about this fire growing 700 acres to 1,000 acres an hour. Overnight with some of the humidities that we did receive it, tempered the fire a bit, but don’t let that lull you into a sense that something is changing on this incident. Once that marine layer pulled out, there was free burning activity out there again, which challenged all our lines out there and burned in several different directions. And hampered our control efforts and our evacuation efforts and our rescue efforts of all our personnel on the line.

Billy See: (09:34)
So again today, all those personnel will be actively engaged out on that line. We’ve increased our personnel by almost a hundred since last night, which is good. It’s still not enough. We’re going to continue to bring additional personnel and resources in here. We’re going to continue to engage in this firefight and we’ll take the little wins and add that up into a big win. Thank you.

Deputy Chief Cox: (10:00)
And our final speaker for the general San Mateo, Santa Cruz areas is Cal Fire Unit Chief Ian Larkin.

Ian Larkin: (10:10)
Good morning. As it’s been said, this is a very dynamic situation that we’re dealing with here in both San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties. I reiterated last night, this is a historic event. We have fire burning in areas that may have never burned at all. So as this fire continues to grow, as we try to get resources in to contain the fire, we just need to make sure that those that are evacuated heed those evacuation notices. Leave the area if you haven’t, as is stated, we’re taking our vital resources that we have, which are very limited, and we’re having to commit those to rescue those that have decided to stay and try to assist those communities. We have firefighters out there trying to do perimeter control that are being taken away from that effort in order to affect those rescues and make sure everybody is safe that has left the area.

Ian Larkin: (11:00)
So I can’t stress it enough that everybody needs to leave the area and stay out of the area and let us get in there and do our jobs. We are doing everything that we can. We have committed every available resource that is available to us from our local fire agencies and our Cal Fire agency as well. We have basically put everything we have on the front line in order to try to contain this fire. And as resources come in, we will be assigning those as the team sees fit to those areas that have the greatest impact and need. So please leave the area. Heed the evacuations notice. If you’re anywhere in the area or in front of the fire, that has not received an evacuation notice, take this as an upfront note, prepare yourself, be ready. So in the event that we do have to evacuate you, you’re ready to go. Thank you.

Deputy Chief Cox: (11:55)
With that, I’m happy to answer any questions about the incident.

Speaker 7: (11:58)
How do you decide which structures to defend and which ones to leave behind? Is more preference given to say a business or a restaurant or… How does that work?

Deputy Chief Cox: (12:13)
So the question is how do we decide which structures that we’re going to actually defend. And I don’t know if a Chief Brunton wants to go into the tactics a little bit.

Chief Brunton: (12:22)
It’s never easy to determine what you can save and what you can’t save. All we can say is that we can’t save everything. So you do with what you’ve got. We use the process of triage process, just like in the medical field. You have to sort, it’s a French word for sorting, and the same thing we do with the structures. It doesn’t matter if it’s a business. It doesn’t matter if it’s a house or whatever. We go by what life, property, the environment.

Chief Brunton: (12:48)
If there’s a life directly involved with that structure, that’s going to be a number one priority for us. And that’s going to be what we’re going to go after. Beyond that, we go into a sorting process. If we have the time to do so. Many times we don’t. Sometimes it’s the target of opportunity and we just go for it the best we can. If we have a time to sort out and a process that, then we look at things that give us the best chance with the limited resources. We hear this time and again about the limited resources. So we have to pick and choose our targets of opportunity, the best we can that way. So things like defensible space. You’ve heard us many times over the years, talk about defensible space, doing your part to help us, help you. Well, those that have done their work and there have people that have done their work. And I will tell you throughout my career, and here in this incident is no different, those people who have done their defensible space have given us the best opportunity to save that structure.

Chief Brunton: (13:40)
And it many times it’s given us opportunity to save the structure without us even having to put fire personnel there because it saves itself. So again, if you haven’t done so, and you’re not in an effected area and you’re in other parts of the community, make sure defensible space is done because that’s what gives us a chance. When this happens, never say it’s never going to happen to me, it will happen. It’s happening here. Right? So having that done, it gives us the opportunity. We’ve used that to our advantage in this case, and time and time again, in our past to save structures. And that’s another process we’ve used. And for those folks that have done it, fantastic job because we’ve been able to save your houses with that defensible space in play.

Speaker 8: (14:19)
You mentioned additional resources that have come in to assist. Where are they coming from? How many? Where will they be dispatched to? And how many more might we see?

Deputy Chief Cox: (14:28)
So the way the State of California works is we have a multi-agency coordination that occurs in both Northern and Southern California and then at the state level as well, as more resources come in. So with that, all of the different fires, the dozens of fires that are burning across the state right now, those are continually evaluated for priorities based on life threat, structured threat, and critical infrastructure and the environment. And as those resources come in, they essentially get allocated based on that, what we call max process. And we’re constantly reporting back to the region and to Sacramento about what the status of our fire is. So as you can imagine, if you zoom out a little bit to a statewide view of this, it’s just like Chief Brunton said, it’s a triage from the state level all the way down to the local level about getting the most effective resources to the best location, to make the biggest difference in the County.

Speaker 8: (15:22)
So the ones that did arrive, do we know where they come from?

Deputy Chief Cox: (15:26)
So right now we have resources from all over the state. There are resources coming in from other states as well at the moment. But as we talked about, there’s a reflex time there from the time the order gets placed to the time that that firefighter actually gets on the line and works, is days. So that number of resources will obviously go up in the future, but it’s all contingent on the time it takes to get here, as well as what the other fires are doing in the state.

Speaker 9: (15:48)
As a follow up, do we have a list of [inaudible 00:15:53] agencies that are here right now?

Deputy Chief Cox: (15:54)
We can work on that. I don’t believe we have one yet, but we can work on that.

Speaker 10: (15:57)
Yesterday you guys said that you had some people that were unaccounted for. [inaudible 00:16:01].

Deputy Chief Cox: (16:02)
Pass that one to the Sheriff.

Sheriff: (16:06)
So I don’t have any further update with regards, we had a missing persons case that came in. And so we have detectives, as I mentioned, that are working through that. I don’t have an update on that this morning, but I can get back to you.

Speaker 12: (16:27)
What’s the situation for the air attack?

Chief Brunton: (16:28)
Yes, to repeat the question is what’s the status of the air attack situation or air resources on the incident? So we do have a number of helicopters that are assigned. We’ve been getting a few here and there throughout the past couple of days. That’s great. That’s helping us. Unfortunately, the smoke conditions are what determine the use of the aircraft. They can’t fly. It’s like flying through dense clouds or fog or something of that nature. They can’t just simply go off incident ratings and that sort of thing to fly in that kind of hazardous condition. So they have to have really what we call clean air in order to operate. And then also for our air attack officer in the air that leads that whole charge to make sure that that person can identify the targets and safely get the aircraft in there, that’s most effective to the ground suppression resources.

Chief Brunton: (17:12)
So the air that has been clear, has been mainly in the north part of the fire. And whenever we have that opportunity, we are hammering it with everything we possibly can at our disposal air wise. We do not have the full extent of our full air force capabilities that we have throughout the state because of all the different fires. But we all share the resources and it’s again, a triage to the different fires based on the needs and the life safety threats and so forth. So we have been using aircraft. It’s been limited, any opportunity that we can and when the air clears and we get in there, as soon as we can fly the aircraft, we were flying the aircraft and we are using it to our best advantage. Right now unfortunately I’d say it’s limited, but we will take advantage of it when we can. And we will use full force with our aircraft when possible.

Speaker 13: (18:00)
I’m not sure if you mentioned this already, but do you know if we have update on any injuries or any more injuries?

Deputy Chief Cox: (18:04)
Yeah, just the question was any update on the injuries. I believe we’re still holding it three binary injuries to firefighters so far, nothing major, no hospitalizations.

Speaker 13: (18:17)
How are the firefighters doing out there?

Deputy Chief Cox: (18:17)
Yeah. So the question was, how firefighters are doing out there. This fire started what early Sunday morning, and here we are on Friday morning talking about still a structure threat and a threat to the community. The firefighters are doing what we do best, which is completing the mission. And I think this is the bread and butter of what we do as first responders. And unfortunately over the last three years, this is what we’ve been doing over and over again on large fires. So firefighters put in these long hours, 24 hour shifts that we have out there. And really understanding what it means to the community, because at the end of the day, there’s firefighters on the line here who either know people in the community or have family in the community. So this is personal, especially with the number of resources we have. We have a large number that are locally based firefighters. So they’re doing well, but obviously 24 hours of work, everyone’s exhausted when they’re coming off the line.

Speaker 14: (19:24)
With regard to those UCFC campus evacuations, can you talk about the proximity of the fire to the campus and why the decision was made to evacuate the people that are there?

Deputy Chief Cox: (19:36)
Yeah. So the question is why the decision was made to evacuate the UCFC campus and and I’ll have the Sheriff’s Department answer.

Sheriff: (19:45)
Yeah, sure. I don’t want to speak necessarily to where the fire is located. I know that as of yesterday we had a deputy went down there and saw that there was fire about a mile north of Twin Gates. But I don’t know, I would defer to fire with regards to kind of the size of that burn there. But UCFC did a precautionary evacuation of the school, got everybody out. So even by the time that it was time to evacuate, that was already complete.

Speaker 14: (20:12)
Do we know how many evacuees there were with faculty, students, anything like that?

Sheriff: (20:19)
I heard a number, but I don’t want to speculate.

Speaker 15: (20:20)
I know that a lot of times we see our correctional crews. Because of COVID, are you using fewer of those crews? Is that a lessor resource for you at this point?

Deputy Chief Cox: (20:36)
Yes. The question with regard to COVID and the inmate firefighting crews. And Chief See, you can answer that.

Billy See: (20:40)
Thank you for the question. Obviously statewide our crew numbers are down, and there’s a lot of moving pieces related to that. COVID is just one of them. As far as utilization of our CDCR partner crews that we have, our inmate crews that we utilize a day to day in Cal Fire, we will continue to utilize them when they become available. Right now, they’re stretched very, very thin divided between a 13 incident management teams up and down the state. 367 fires started with these lightning caused fires. Several of those have grown into large and damaging fires. So the resources are very, very thin. And that includes the crews. We are standing up firefighter crews in each of our units. And we’re utilizing them also with our seasonal firefighting force and our extra captains that we have. So we’re trying to put as many boots on the ground as possible in this time of need statewide.

Speaker 16: (21:46)
We know that you had three rescues. At some point was there forcible removal of people? If they continue to stress the resources and refuse to leave.

Billy See: (22:00)
So the evacuation process falls under the Sheriff’s Department. We make the recommendations to it. They placed the evacuation order. So they’ve said that they want everyone out. Forcibly trying to force someone out unless they’re inhibiting our efforts is against the law. So basically put, we’re asking everyone to listen to those evacuation orders that the sheriff has issued under our recommendations. And we’re asking them to leave. Once they leave we’re not going to allow them back in. We’re going to hard close all those roads, shut it down, give all our firefighting forces a safe area to work in, that we can maneuver very quickly to get them in the right positions at the right time.

Speaker 17: (22:45)
Could you talk about a worst case scenario? I’ve heard something to the effect of, you do not want this to get across Highway 280.

Billy See: (22:56)
Worst case scenario? I requested to evacuate 64,000 people. That was my worst case scenario. Right now my evacuation box is huge, but that’s because of the safety of the residents out there. So this fire is historic. We’re learning and watching and gaining information every minute. So this is something that most of us have never seen. I said, two days ago, I’m tired of saying historic. I’m tired of saying that I’ve never seen something like this in 34 years fighting fire. It’s a dangerous situation. And we’re making the best educated decision on the information that’s put forth.

Speaker 18: (23:35)
Can you talk about what are conditions today and what your main objectives are?

Chief Brunton: (23:44)
Weather conditions today are probably the most favorable we’ve seen since the event began. We are going to see a little bit more coastal influence, some cooling, rising of humidity, a little bit lessening of the wind that we’ve been seeing. That we’re looking at that in the next probably 48 hours. So what we do is when we have these targets of opportunity, we take full advantage of them. Again, limited resources, but we’re very creative. We were thinking very strategically about it. And we’re putting those into play to take advantage of that weather situation. Unfortunately, that is not going to sustain. And we are going to see some weather conditions coming back that are not in our favor. But we are doing everything we can to take advantage of that window of opportunity to put our folks to work and take advantage, to get those as the chief said, small wins that end up to be the big win in the end.

Speaker 19: (24:29)
What’s the plan of attack and objective for today?

Deputy Chief Cox: (24:32)
All right, we’ll make this the last question then we’ll…

Chief Brunton: (24:35)
I’m sorry. Once again, please.

Speaker 19: (24:39)
What’s your plan of attack and objective for today.

Chief Brunton: (24:39)
Plan of attack and objective again, it’s number one is the life safety. So we’re taking advantage of making sure that we take care of any of the life safety issues that exist. Then we’re moving on to the property conservation, so active as we’ve been doing all along, but getting very active with the structure defense and then establishing some lines. We are establishing a line. We started last night for one instance, that is on the southern part of the fire, that will help protect the community of Santa Cruz and the UC Santa Cruz campus.

Deputy Chief Cox: (25:08)
All right, thank you very much. The next press conference will be at 6:00 PM this evening. Just want to kind of reiterate one last point, which is we are just asking for patience right now. The community I know is out of the area. We are doing our jobs in there and I know people want specific information, but the best thing that people can do right now is just be patient. We do have crews in there and we’ll get more information out tonight at 6:00. Thanks so much.