The signs draped on highway overpasses really do say it all: “Thank you Firefighters” “Thank you Cal Fire, Sheriff, Police, EMS.” The profound thanks and gratitude is from the heart and the feelings of appreciation are authentic and run deep. I believe this outpouring reflects a realization that our homes and way of life in our city really did hang in the balance and our fortuitous escape from disaster made people reflect on their good fortune.
The CZU Fire entered the disaster lexicon in a more dramatic fashion than COVID -19. After smoldering on the Scotts Valley horizon for a day or so, the evidence of its danger came in the way of a mess of ash covering our cars and hard surfaces. But what started as an object of curiosity, with photos of covered cars texted to friends, became a source of real concern when burned leaves the size of a hand began to fall and litter our landscapes and our consciousness. If burning remnants could travel 5 miles into our back yards, then the menace could be real. Suddenly extreme heat and low humidity were harbingers of the emergency in what was to come.
Enter Cal Fire and their request to stage their equipment on our Skypark fields, which was granted. Unfortunately, the challenges in first few days of this fire were way above their ability to respond effectively. Lack of resources, extreme weather and the fire’s ferocity assailed all attempts to manage its unrelenting progression and I saw real concern in peoples’ eyes when regarding this menace. Words like “containment” “threatened structures” and “residences destroyed” became topics of daily discussion.
Like seamen and crew members who gain their sea legs, however, I think that on about the 3rd day Cal Fire and other agencies really began to click and the fight was on. And what started out with scores of firefighters became hundreds and coupled with better weather and more resources, the tide began to turn. But fires are unpredictable and Cal Fire made the decision that Scotts Valley should evacuate. It is never easy to convey such a message and it is even more difficult to pack up and leave one’s home, but that is what thousands of citizens did and mostly without complaint. Some folks decided to stay and as the mayor, I got a handful of emails from people who thought that the fire danger had passed and we should immediately lift the order and allow our community back into their homes. Those requests were obviated when the word went out on Friday that our city was again opening up. What a wonderful day that was.
In total, I believe that over 90 different agencies have responded to this fire, even from as far away as New Jersey, if you can believe that. The teamwork and alliances that worked together so flawlessly really were extraordinary. Starting with Scotts Valley, our city manager, Tina Friend, worked tirelessly as our emergency manager to attend every Cal Fire press conference, update the city website to keep citizens informed and coordinated efforts with SV fire and police to keep a watchful eye on our city. The City Council was briefed nearly every day on the status of the CZU fire. Chief Walpole was amazing in coordinating action to both help the joint effort against the fire and directing our wonderful police force to protect our evacuated city.
I do not have room to properly thank all the agencies who helped in this effort. The Sheriff’s Office was great; Cal Fire and all of our local fire agencies are owed such a huge debt of gratitude. I also want to thank the citizens of Scotts Valley for doing their part, with little objection, in evacuating and complying with a tough order. I am especially proud of the fact that most everyone I talk to is very cognizant of their good fortune and painfully aware of the hardship that our neighbors, mostly in San Lorenzo Valley, are going through. We are here to help and that collective extended hand will continue to reach out to support and comfort any way we can, never forgetting that we are all in this together.