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CZU Complex Fire survivors get their first glimpses at the destruction

Deyess Payne moved to the Last Chance Road community just before the pandemic. Two weeks ago he finished the move.

"You know I just can't believe it. You bring everything to a place that you're finally feeling safe at and the next thing you know it's gone," Payne said.

His plan was to rebuild eight sailboats and use them for his newly formed sailing business. But ten days ago a violent lightning storm sparked the deadly CZU Lightning Complex Fire.

80% of the homes in Payne's community burned down and 73-year-old Tad Jones was killed.

"He was definitely a genuine kind-hearted person. And super unfortunate that he wasn't able to make it out," Payne said.

The Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office says it sent out reverse 911 calls to landlines, as well as text messages to numbers that opted in around 6 p.m. when Cal Fire made the evacuation order Wednesday night.

Payne said he plans to move to Napa Valley where he has one boat left, but now he's nervous this upcoming rain season could be dangerous with the potential for mudslides.

Fire update:

On Wednesday, Sheriff's officials said they expect that people in Scotts Valley and surrounding unincorporated areas could be allowed to return home within a day or a few days, but said that is still subject to change. Other areas are expected to take longer - in Felton, they said it could be days to a week because of the success they have had in the area.

Further north, especially around the Highway 9 corridor, the Sheriff's Office said it could be a week to weeks due to increased damage in the areas. Heading into Boulder Creek, the 236 area and Bonny Doon, it could potentially take weeks because of the extent of the damage.

Chief Deputy Chris Clark said the process of bringing people back home will be systematic and methodical. Crews want to make sure repopulated areas have electricity, safe roadways and water.

Just as the Wednesday briefing was starting, Cal Fire issued a notice saying that evacuation orders have been lifted for the UC Santa Cruz campus, but the chief of police at the university said it will be a systematic and phased repopulation.

Cal Fire officials said they expect good days ahead, and on Thursday, containment rose to 21%. The fire has burned 81,333 acres. 646 structures have been destroyed, and 635 of them are in Santa Cruz County.

Article Topic Follows: California

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