Aug 24, 2020

CAL FIRE Press Conference Transcript August 24: CZU Fires Update

CAL FIRE Press Conference Transcript August 24: CZU Fires Update
RevBlogTranscriptsCAL FIRE Press Conference Transcript August 24: CZU Fires Update

CAL FIRE held a press conference on August 24 to address the CZU Lightning Complex fires, specifically in San Mateo. Read the transcript of the update here.

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Jonathan Cox: (00:11)
Good morning. Welcome to the 6:00 AM press conference here on the CZU Lightening Complex. I’m Jonathan Cox, Deputy Chief for Cal Fire San Mateo, Santa Cruz unit. I’m the line officer here out on the incident. Just a few things as usual, if you could please mute your telephones, take any conversations outside the press briefing area, as well as keep your masks on as much as possible. There will be a time at the end of this press conference for questions and answers with the representatives that are up here. Just a few things, a quick update on the fire. The fire grew. It’s 78,000 acres as of six o’clock this morning. [Inaudible 00:00:47] have been destroyed, both throughout Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties and we have a more specific breakdown of that that we can get you later this morning.

Jonathan Cox: (00:56)
We continue to increase the number of firefighters that that are arriving every day. We’re up to 1,511 firefighters, federal state, local government, including ones from out of state here on this incident. One thing to note is there was an evacuation warning that went out in Santa Clara County yesterday afternoon. That warning went out in an abundance of caution based on the potential lightning and storms that were forecasted for yesterday. We do not believe there’s any imminent threat over to the Santa Clara County side right now. I just wanted to help clarify that because obviously that’s a whole new county kind of right by us. With that, I think it’s time for an operations update from a Cal Fire Incident Management Team Operations Section Chief, Mark [Bretton 00:01:41].

Mark B.: (01:43)
Good morning. The past 24 hours, albeit we are in a red flag warning, we’ve actually had the opportunity, the weather hasn’t been as significant as we were expecting, which is good. That has given us an opportunity for our crews to make a lot of great progress throughout this fire. Starting in our North zone, part of the fire, again, a lot of good work up there. You see this x-ing on the line and that’s the control line that’s been established and verified. We have a really good set of control lines on the North end of the fire throughout the entire North and then down on the coast, some of the fires, it’s actually self mitigated the fact that it’s burning some lighter fuels and with the increase of the humidities and so forth, the fires actually extinguish itself so that’s very good.

Mark B.: (02:31)
Around Davenport, haven’t seen any movement of the fire. It is still hung up on the ridge top. It’s something that once we get more resources, we’re going to go directly after, but we do have a good control lying around that community and protecting that community as well. On the South end of the fire, we have continued to improve the control lines along the South end. We have this really good control line that runs from Highway one to Highway nine. We have a secondary that we put in. We did a little burnout operation and in that southern part of the Bunny Dune area and that widened and improved our line tremendously. It created a very good control line to the South primary and in the secondary so that really, really puts excellent protection for Santa Cruz and the UC campus. Won’t say that they are complete 100% out of any sort of danger, but we are very confident that these lines are going to hold and do what we need them to do.

Mark B.: (03:24)
Moving up the fire in the Felton area, fire still well up on the ridge. Felton is still looking pretty good. Again, we proceed with caution with the weather event as we continue through that, until that is completed with the red flag warning. Highway nine corridor, the thing about that, we’ve been able to establish some lines and are continuing to establish some lines. Are they as robust as we’d like them to be? No, absolutely not. They’re primary. They were established very rapidly to try to keep the fire in check. We’re just kind of doing bump and run type technique, a technique in which we just try to push or heard the fire like I’ve said before. With that, it’s not the kind of line that we would traditionally put in where it’s very robust, solid, and is going to hold fire that we can follow up with other suppression tactics.

Mark B.: (04:12)
Therefore with that and due to the topography, very steep, extremely rugged terrain, lots of ravines and canyons and that sort of thing, drainage is very difficult for us to work in. It’s not how we traditionally establish our lines, not where we’d like to put our lines that give us the best advantage, but we deal with what we’re dealt and we’re giving it our best shot based on that. We’ll work with what we put in the best we can. As a result of that, what we’re going to see, and you will see we’ll have little setbacks here and there. There’s nothing that’s pushing or threatening directly to the community, but people may see, now that the air is cleared a little bit more, some flames and so forth. That’s going to be normal. You’re going to see that because we have not fully extinguished this fire.

Mark B.: (04:54)
We’re far from that at this point. Again, heavy fuels, this rugged terrain to put those lines in, to hold them and establish them, it’s going to take time. There has to be a bit of patience, but any flare ups that we do get, we move our resources back there. We fall back as we can take care of these things where the hot material may roll out onto the steep terrain, burn back up into the berm itself. That’s going to happen, where you’re going to see that, but it’s something that we can easily jump upon and we can start mitigating and keep it from getting further down until the Highway nine corridor. There are few points where it’s come down and touch the highway nine corridor in areas without structures. That’s fine. Highway nine is a good place to kind of stop and that part of the fire is extinguished. So now that brings a nice solid control line, if you will, right there along Highway nine as well.

Mark B.: (05:46)
We’re going to continue. That process is going to be painstakingly long. It’s going to take time, it’s going to take a lot of effort, take a lot of work, to do it, to establish a very solid control line but we’re working diligently to do that. Bunny Dune area, again, very difficult because of the number of structures that are dispersed throughout that area. A lot of vegetation again, a lot of very steep and rugged terrain and various parts of that so a painstaking process, it’s a slow process, but we are continually working on that. Our crews are making advancements every day to making that more safe and getting the community back on its feet.

Jonathan Cox: (06:25)
Speaking next from the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s office, is Chief Deputy Clark.

Chief Deputy Clark: (06:32)
Good morning. In terms of Sheriff’s office activity, last night again, burglary suppression was our priority with welfare checks and checking on different folks as those calls came in. In terms of total calls for service, how many calls did we get? 10 suspicious people were called in as well as two welfare checks. And we sent deputies out on both of those. Our missing persons, that count stands at four. And we still have four missing people that we’re trying to determine where they are. In terms of our activity when it comes to the or sorry, when it comes to the suspicious people, we did make three arrests last night, as I’ve said before and I’ll continue to say that we have a lot of personnel and last night we had a lot of personnel. Today moving forward, we’re going to have 79 total personnel, 33 from our office.

Chief Deputy Clark: (07:22)
Again, I can’t speak more highly of our local agencies and agencies over the hill that contributed 46 to that total today, so 79 total personnel that’ll be out looking for people that should not be in an evacuation area or looking to pray on other people who’ve already evacuated. And so kind of in that vein last night, there were three people or four people rather, three in which we arrested two people arrested or contacted. They had warrants, they were, they were taken to jail, arrested for those warrants. And then also charged with being in a closed evacuation area, as well as the lady that was seen walking around with a backpack. She was from San Francisco, not from the area and was arrested for being in a closed evacuation area. Then we also cited a person last night, who is from the area, but wasn’t supposed to be here and he was escorted out.

Chief Deputy Clark: (08:12)
I wanted to touch real quickly, we’ve gotten a number of calls with regards to the city of Santa Cruz. And so the city of Santa Cruz did kind of like a pre-warning. I believe they went door to door, great thing to be prepared, but there’s no … I wanted to reiterate, there’s no imminent fire danger right now to the city of Santa Cruz. And so, Cal Fire has done a great job of kind of securing that Southern border. As long as the weather stays the way that it should and the conditions stay the way it should, there should not be an imminent danger or at least there’s not right now to the city of Santa Cruz.

Chief Deputy Clark: (08:48)
Then lastly, it’s been a lot of interest in the wallet that was stolen from the firefighter. Again, I think we’re all kind of blown away that somebody would actually steal from someone that’s out there trying to help, but we have a detective dedicated to that case that we’re looking into it. We’re running down leads and I guarantee if we can find out who did this, that person’s going to jail. Anyway, that’s an update on our activity. Thank you.

Jonathan Cox: (09:19)
Speaking next from the San Mateo County Sheriff’s office is [Sal Zuno 00:00:09:24].

Sal Zuno: (09:28)
Good morning. Fight now, no significant changes for San Mateo County. However, we did have an incident yesterday where six people did enter a restricted area to check on their property and the end result is they had to be rescued. They snuck into an area that was restricted. They were surprised by the fire and we had to redirect resources to get these people out. We understand that when people are evacuated, they’re very anxious, they’re concerned for the properties, and that’s why we have law enforcement protecting those areas and keeping them secure 24/7. Please help us. If there’s a restricted area, do not enter it because then what happens is we have to redirect resources. You put those responders in additional risk and you put yourself in a risk for injury. Other than that, we’re working very hard around the clock to make sure that you guys are giving the information up to date, anything significant that you know about it. We’re putting information out on all our social media channels. For San Mateo County, if you want more information, you can download our app for either Android or iPhone at Thank you.

Jonathan Cox: (10:47)
Speaking next, one of the unified incident commanders, Cal Fire Incident Management Team three, Incident Commander, Billy C.

Incident Commander Billy C.: (10:56)
Good morning. Obviously, over the last 48 hours, we found a lot of success, a lot of small wins, and they’re starting to add up to a larger wins on this incident. We continue to increase our personnel numbers assigned to this incident, as well as engines and crews and we will continue to do that until we have sufficient resources at the incident to mitigate the entire perimeter. Obviously, mother nature’s helped us quite a bit. We have moisture yesterday evening and we’ve had increased humidities with reduced winds. My operational folks on the ground have taken advantage of those opportunities that mother nature has presented us and have worked extremely hard to develop what we have currently, and we will continue to progress as long as the conditions remain the same or improve.

Incident Commander Billy C.: (11:52)
Obviously, we’re still vigilant to what occurred over the last seven days and what type of weather pattern we’re in, what kind of winds we had, what kind of dropping humidities we had, and we’ll be watching that closely. We will be prepared to be proactive if those conditions resurface during the next week to two weeks so we can be aggressive with maintaining our perimeter and reduce the risk, both to all the communities that are endangered and all the infrastructure that is out there. Thank you.

Jonathan Cox: (12:29)
And our final speaker, Cal Fire San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Unit Chief Orkin.

Chief Orkin: (12:38)
Good morning. It’s nice to see we’ve got a little bit of weather being an advantage, helping us take advantage of those opportunities where we can get people into the fire now and start to actually get some action that is positive as you see the increase with that containment is there. I want to just focus a little bit on what Sergeant Zuno said. We have people that are still trying to get in to see if their property’s are there. Both San Mateo County and Santa Cruz County are working diligently. They’re establishing websites that will be able to provide the public information on the status of their residents.

Chief Orkin: (13:15)
We currently have numerous teams of inspectors out there looking at each of the properties, gathering information, so that we can get that out to the public as soon as possible through both the counties so that you can have a idea of what you have left, or if your property was undamaged. Please be patient with us as we get this information out to you. We need to make sure that it’s safe for our inspectors to get into the areas so that they can assess the damage that occurred. Thank you.

Jonathan Cox: (13:45)
Okay. That concludes the formal speakers. Happy to answer any questions that you may have.

Speaker 7: (13:50)
Any lightning strikes over the overnight hours, Jonathan, that caused problems?

Jonathan Cox: (13:54)
Yeah, I do know that there were some down strikes across the northern part of the state. I don’t believe it was widespread and we didn’t have any confirmed in our local area in the San Mateo, Santa Cruz unit.

Speaker 8: (14:07)
Can you talk about the six people that had to be rescued after trying to check on their property?

Jonathan Cox: (14:11)
Yeah. I don’t know the specifics of it. I don’t know if Sal does.

Sal Zuno: (14:18)
Unfortunately, I don’t have much specifics other than they enter the restricted area. On the positive note, I can tell you that they weren’t injured nor were the first responders. I got them out. I don’t have details right now if they were cited for anything. But this is, if anything, it’s mostly reminded everybody that to work with us on this.

Speaker 9: (14:38)
There are a lot of folks feel like, especially in the beginning, you were frustrated that they didn’t see more firefighters near their particular properties. Of course, firefighters were busy everywhere, but what do you want to say to communities trying to get back in?

Sal Zuno: (14:49)
That just like the chief said, once it is safe to do so and the fire investigators that had a chance to go in there and declare the area safe to do so, until then, don’t because there could be a lot of other things going on that people are not aware of. And we understand that that’s why I mentioned that anything that’s important, information wise, we’re working to get it out there. Things are changing every day. So just please work with us, be patient. We understand how you guys feel, but that’s why we have law enforcement out there working together 24/7.

Speaker 10: (15:24)
Can you talk any more about the gentleman who was found in Davenport?

Chief Deputy Clark: (15:32)
Sure. As I mentioned, the question was about the person who was found deceased up on Last Chance. There’s no new information. I don’t have any new information as far as that’s concerned. I mentioned last night that we’re working right now to notify that persons next of kin and so as soon as we’ve done that, and we’ve been able to speak with his family, we’ll be able to provide more information.

Speaker 10: (15:53)
Was he in his home?

Chief Deputy Clark: (15:55)
No, he wasn’t. And as I mentioned last night, at least preliminarily, it looks like he was maybe near his vehicle and some distance away from his vehicle, likely leaving the fire.

Speaker 11: (16:09)
Are you guys having enough, Jonathan, enough resources. I know it’s a fight for that high. Are you guys having enough right now or would you like more?

Jonathan Cox: (16:17)
Yeah. The question was related to resources coming into the fire. If you’ve looked every day, we’ve increased the number of resources and that’s exactly what we need at the moment. There are over 14,000 firefighters deployed right now across California, another 26 engines coming from other states, another 216 National Guard crews or firefighters coming online in the next few days. Those steps are just kind of vital for us to increase that containment. Just remember, any time this team increases that containment number, that’s equivalent to hundreds and hundreds of hours of hard work out on the line. That’s what those numbers reflect essentially. As we see those firefighting crew numbers come in, as we see the weather become favorable, the correlation of those two together are increasing the percentage.

Jonathan Cox: (17:07)
I will just go back to kind of dovetail on what Sergeant Zuno said, in regard to people going back into the areas, trying to check on their structures, it is highly dangerous in there still. There are trees coming down. We have Redwood trees, old growth timber that is coming across the roadway and we have infrastructure that needs repair. We have bridges that have failed, old wooden bridges that have failed that may not appear failed to people that they may drive on. It is not safe.

Jonathan Cox: (17:34)
The fire may not be directly impacting their structure or property, but there are huge hazards out there and the last thing we want to do as first responders is allow somebody to get hurt or injured out there after the fire has gone through. Just need to reiterate that there is going to need to be a lot of patience as we kind of work to secure these areas and get people the information they need. Understand we ourselves, know this is personal for us. We have firefighters, who’ve lost homes and we know how personal it is. We’re working 24 hours a day to get that area secured for them. But it is going to take some time.

Speaker 12: (18:10)
To follow up on resources, can you confirm that the entire perimeter is being watched at least? That’s there’s at least eyes?

Jonathan Cox: (18:19)
The way the fires work is Chief Brunton and his team divide the fire into geographical areas, branches and divisions, and then there’s objectives and tasks within those. There is a supervisor as well as resources assigned for every geographical area on the fire. Now, obviously they move around where necessary for their operational period, but that’s one of the big priorities and tasks that this team comes in and does at a very large scale and that’s their expertise. So, yes.

Speaker 13: (18:48)
Jonathan, was there any help for the San Fernando Valley water district yet? Have they been able to get in there or do you anticipate when they might be able to get in there?

Jonathan Cox: (18:58)
Yeah. The question is related to San Lorenzo Water District. What we can tell you is there isn’t a whole infrastructure branch established as a part of the incident management team now, and that team works directly with the water districts, with the power companies, with the sewer districts, to make sure that they’re coordinating with fire. There’s also the support from the County Emergency Operation Center, the EOC, to make sure that they’re getting the information and connections with the fire, because that is the next step after the fire is securing the water systems, ensuring the infrastructure is in place. And that happens sequentially and those conversations and those operations have already begun. So yes, there is integration going on with the water companies.

Speaker 13: (19:41)
Any idea when they might be able to get up there to make the temporary repairs?

Jonathan Cox: (19:42)
Yeah. I’d have to get back to you on that one. I don’t want to speak for them. Yeah.

Speaker 13: (19:49)
Thank you.

Jonathan Cox: (19:49)
Okay. Thanks guys. Everyone up here is available for comments. We will do this again at 6:00 PM. Be safe. Thank you.

Speaker 13: (19:55)
Thank you.

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