BONNY DOON - Fire officials say there are two markedly different blazes burning in the Lockheed Fire, which surprisingly has held its acreage at 2,800 throughout most of the afternoon.
This evening crews are trying to keep the fire east of Last Chance Road, south of Lockheed Road and west of Empire Grade, according to Cal Fire spokesman Michael Mohler.
"They're trying to keep it within that box," he said.
"It was burning within the interior of where the fire is," Mohler said. "The fire didn't move forward... It's absolutely great news."
The Lockheed Fire was burning in two directions as the afternoon drew to a close and Cal Fire officials said the two fronts of the fire are unique.
South toward Bonny Doon, the fire was affected by the weather, especially wind shifts.
But toward the Swanton area, which is where the fire ignited Wednesday night, the flames were heading northwest and moving in on themselves. There, the fire burned unaffected by the weather, according to Cal Fire spokeswoman Julie Hutchinson.
Yet the blaze remains largely uncontained, according to Felton-based Battalion Chief Michael Borelli.
"They haven't lost any structures, but at the same time, we are losing natural resources," Borelli said.
Firefighters battled to contain the blaze in the Swanton area, Borelli said, giving rough estimates of its boundaries as Bertoli Drive, Last Chance Road
"We're trying to keep it at Swanton and out of Bonny Doon," he said. "The wind has shifted away from Bonny Doon a little bit, but it got hotter in the afternoon so the winds came up."
North winds of 10 to 15 mph are expected Thursday night, which is not good news for firefighters, who would prefer a southwest wind that has come across the bay.
North winds are similar to an offshore flow and bring warmer, drier conditions, Borelli said.
"We have to get cracking and we try to work hard at night and take advantage of the conditions; it's cooler and there is more humidity and the fire is not as intense," he said. "You are able to work harder without expending as much energy. With the north wind it was hot in the valleys and water and foot became a big issue today."
Borelli was reluctant to predict when firefighters might get a handle on the blaze. Ground crews would continue to battle the flames tonight, though the air tankers and helicopters are not allowed to continue due to safety concerns, he said.
"It's going OK. We're short on resources. We're all competing (throughout the state)," he said. "And a fire hasn't burned there in 61 years so there is a lot of fuels."
At 3 p.m. Barbara and Lud McCrary were preparing to evacuate their home of 58 years on Swanton View Road as flames drew dangerously close.
A little more than an hour later, a team of firefighters and helicopters won the battle of the blaze that sought to destroy the ranch belonging to the co-founders of the Big Creek Lumber Cos.
Flames crept within a couple hundred feet of the house as hand crews dug in to build a line around the property, containing the blaze. Nearby the buzz of two bulldozers drawing a fire line competed with the sound of a brigade of helicopters working in rotation to douse the flames of a water tank on the hill above the house.
In what seemed like synchronization, the choppers lined up to draw water from a lagoon along the coast, dropping it around the water tank, one after another until the flames were doused.
Inside the house Barbara was trying to save Lud's diaries and the Swanton weather records dating back to 1928, and looking for her cat Sneakers.
"I'm afraid she may be under the house, and if the house goes, I'm afraid she could go with it," the 76-year-old said. Capt. Dan Lipkowitz of Branciforte Fire said "It's the afternoon winds, that's what's driving it."
Lipkowitz and his engine crew of four arrived last night at 10:30 p.m. on Swanton Road where they've been since,
Wind. That's what fire commanders worry about as the day winds down.
Cal Fire Battalion Chief Mike Mohler said they are concerned about another increase in acreage tonight because of wind picking up. Hand crews are out on fire lines deep into the woods, setting backfires and doing their best to turn the fire back on itself.
Firefighters say the wind is moving west, away from Bonny Doon but into nasty terrain where the fire is best fought by air. Nightfall also stops the airdrops.
"It's definitely active," Mohler said, attributing the fire to the lack of moisture and heavy foilage.
Mohler said he doesn't expect anymore evacuations in the near future, but a new acreage estimate will be available soon.
From a stand on Molina Creek Farm Road, a Santa Clara County Cal Fire captain, who declined to give his name, said "We're trying to tie this corner up so we save an anchor point. Right now we have miles and miles of open line."
As the wind howls through the canyons and up the mountainside, flames move in multiple directions, firefighters hot on its trail. Their attack spread out on multiple fronts.
It's the nature of the Lockheed Fire, burning in heavily wooded terrain, difficult to access.
The fire stood at 1,000 acres at midnight Wednesday. It has tripled in size. A massive air attack - of at least 16 with four more on order - and an amazing ground force numbering more than 2,000 work tirelessly to beat back the out-of-control fire burning in the Santa Cruz Mountains in an area that hasn't seen a major wildfire for 61 years.
Cal Fire Battalion Chief Julie Hutchinson said they do not know of any structures destroyed. However, at 1:50 p.m., fire raged dangerously close to a house on Molino Creek Farm Road. Hand crews and strike teams kept the flames at bay.
Hutchinson, manning the incident command at Davenport Volunteer Fire Department on Highway 1 just north of Davenport, said the bulk of the fire's attention is focused on structure protection in Bonny Doon where temps are near 85 and wind gusts have hit double digits.
Inside the fire zone, firefighters are building fire lines, trying to stop the fire from jumping any major roads, which it has yet to do, Hutchinson said.
Up to 2,400 people have been evacuated. More than 1,000 structures are threatened. And a steady stream of cars continue to make their way down the mountain as residents are forced to flee their homes, some for the second time in 14 months.
Smoke billows from the ridges and ashes cover the ground carried by a southerly wind that has carried ash and smoke as far as Monterey County, dulling the shine on the premiere car show, Concours d 'Elegance in Pebble Beach.
At 11 a.m. Cal Fire officials hit the "trigger point" and announced the mandatory evacuation of Bonny Doon sending sheriff's deputies door to door. Not everyone complied.
Harold Poehler, who lives at 90 Carter Road in Bonny Doon, said "I'm a trained firefighter, I can run a hose, and I'll help out if they need me."
Poehler was refusing to obey the evacuation notice.
"I'm going to wait until it gets over that hill, then I'll run like hell, but I don't think we have anything to worry about."
Hutchinson had this advice: "Don't wait 'til the last minute to get out of there."
Cal Fire has set trigger points that prompt the evacuations. They say homes are not necessarily in danger but they need to get fire crews in place to attack the blaze and need residents out of the area. Pinning down the acreage burned has proven difficult, a situation not uncommon for a working out-of-control wildfire.
Cal Fire spokesman Mike Mohler said around noon that after flying over the area this morning, they believed the fire to be 1,900 acres. At the Cal Fire Command Center, the estimate ranged up to 2,500 acres at 11:30 a.m., Battalion Chief Michael Borelli said. The Cal Fire Web site, updated at noon, put the acreage at 2,800.
"It's still making runs, but it's not growing like it was last night," he said. "But the winds will pick up this afternoon."
At last update, 2 p.m. Thursday, Hutchinson advised that estimate remained at 2,800 acres and "still making significant runs.
"That's surprising because it's amongst some very large fuel and timber," she said. "It's moving fast and we are not getting a lot of acreage updates; it's getting smoky up there."
Winds were blowing about 10 to 15 mph, pushing the fire south and southeast toward Bonny Doon, she said.
Two thousand firefighters, and several air tankers and helicopters, are among the resources fighting the fire that ignited just after 7 p.m. Wednesday. Fire crews are fighting steep terrain, high temperatures, low humidity and wind gusts, Mohler said.
"It's way too early (for a cause)," Mohler said. "We don't have anything yet."
More than 1,000 structures are threatened. Mandatory evacuations affect 500 to 1,000 homes in the Bonny Doon area, and 300 people in the Swanton area, but no buildings had been reported destroyed. Evacuations were ordered in the Swanton area, Last Chance Road north of Davenport and all of Bonny Doon. Roads at least partially closed today include Empire Grade, Swanton Road, Bonny Doon Road, Pine Flat Road, Ice Cream Grade and Smith Grade.
"We're bringing in hundreds of engines," Mohler said to dig fire line and protect structures.
"Its weather and topography that really affects our fire fight," Mohler said.
The steep mountainside where the fire is burning is thick with knobcone pine and Santa Cruz manzanita, two plants that evolved with fire and require flames to reproduce, said Eric Huff, assistant officer to the board of California Forestry and Fire Protection. Huff, a former forester with Big Creek Lumber in Swanton, said he knows the area well.
"You look around and think, 'we're so close to the coast, the weather's so nice, we've got these redwoods and firs. You don't think about the knobcone and manzanita. It is built to burn," he said.
The Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District issued an air quality advisory due to smoke this morning. The plume from the fire extends over 50 miles to the southwest over the Monterey Bay to Marina and the Monterey Peninsula. Although the plume is mostly remaining aloft, smoke and ash have been reported in these areas, according to the district.
The district is advising people to protect themselves by staying indoors or moving away from impacted areas. It also recommends protecting indoor air quality by closing all doors and windows and, if possible, setting ventilation systems to recirculate air. Anyone with respiratory ailments, young children and older adults should limit their exposure to smoky air by staying indoors, or temporarily seeking areas with cleaner air, according to the district.
The northwest winds pushing the smoke are expected to continue today.
From high atop Filice Ranch on Warnella Road, John Filice and his son, Anthony, watched the fire grow and begin to eat away on the western edge of their property this morning.
The 400-acre cattle and horse ranch has been in the family for 60 years and the men weren't about to leave.
"I'll do what I have to do to fight it," the elder Filice said.
They'd cleared a huge defensible space, evacuated Anthony's wife and all but one horse, Old Paul. The 33-year-old quarter horse is "old and wouldn't withstand the trip," John Filice said.
A half-dozen cattle were roaming the ranch, which also has a working logging operation.
Filice has two houses on the property and was hosting a handful of firefighters and engines from the Cal Fire station in Soquel.
The view from the ranch gave firefighters the perfect angle to alert air support to hotspots. As the rancher watched the fire gobble up the edge of his property, he helped firefighters map the roads and work out their plan of attack.
A nearby logging operation on the Cemex property was evacuated Thursday morning as fears flames would overtake it grew. A half-dozen men left the site; one with a water tender remained to help fight the fire.
Cal Fire Capt. Stuart Clawson of Soquel had been on the Filice Ranch since just after the fire started Wednesday night.
"We were the only eyes and ears out here this morning," he said.
The ranch sits above the fire, due east of Swanton in the hills about four miles west of Empire Grade Road.
Their most immediate fear: a 90 percent chance that fire will jump Warnella Road.
On the border of Bonny Doon along Bonny Doon Road fire trucks are amassed prepared to protect the town from encroaching fire.
Residents are packing up after being told about 11 a.m. that the voluntary evacuation had become mandatory.
Sonia Toren and her family were putting boxes into the pickup carrying suitcases from the house.
"This is rotten scary I have to tell you," Toren said.
Many of these residents including Toren are facing their second fire in 14 months.
Thom Zajac carrying hanger loads out to his car on Pine Flat Road said it's difficult to assess the danger. The firefighters did such a fantastic job last year with the Martin Fire he hopes they'll be able to save homes this time around too.
"But despite their best efforts, when a fire makes up it's mind what it's going to do, there's not much you can do," Zajac said.
A woman just across the street from Zajac's house had already loaded a horse into a trailer. Her two little terriers were in a crate in her SUV. She didn't stop to talk but she acknowledged she was scared as she ran back to the house.
Steve Seth's home west of Empire Grade at the end of Vick Road overlooks the ridge where fire is burning. Normally, Davenport and the coast is visible from the home but the view this afternoon was obscured by a wall of pinkish brown smoke for as far as the eye can see.
Seth, who has been asked to evacuate estimated that the fire was about 4.5 miles away. He was worried and packing up his belongings but was in wait-and-see mode.
"I'm going to see how it rolls. If I feel threatened, I'm going to get in my car and leave," he said.
At Pacific School Thursday morning, office manager Noel Bock is the acting as the community liaison for Davenport residents and school staff.
"I'm just fielding a lot of phone calls," she said. "I would like to be doing enrollment packets."
Wednesday night, the school acted as an emergency shelter for evacuees. Thursday, that facility had moved to the Vintage Faith Church at 350 Mission St. in Santa Cruz.
Still, North Coast residents turned to the school for information. Bock said she was e-mailing people as quickly as she got information, which ranged from fire updates to where their pets were being housed.
Residents of Swanton and Last Chance roads were ordered out Wednesday night, and Bock said most people had evacuated.
The evacuation center has moved from Pacific School in Davenport to Vintage Church, 350 Mission St., in Santa Cruz and residents of Bonny Doon are being asked to evacuate because of concerns about shifting winds later today that could push the fire east.
Lisa Palm, president of Bonny Doon School District board, lives on Empire Grade Road, five miles south of the Lockheed Martin campus. She got the call to evacuate at 11 a.m. At noon she her husband Michael Fairman, their daughters Sage, 11, and Amber, 8, are walking out the door to stay with friends in Scotts Valley. They took with them two 6-week-old kittens, six dwarf hamsters and enough clothes for three days as well as family picture albums, jewelry and musical instruments.
"We don't question it after last year," Lisa Palm said of evacuation orders and last year's Martin Fire.
Carol Tracey, who has owned her home on Bonny Doon Road since 1971, knew the evacuation drill. Like others urged to leave because of fire threatening the eastern flank of their community, Tracey had packed her belongings and left town during last year's Martin Fire.
This time I'm much calmer, and I realize that the stuff I packed wasn't important. As long as my family and my dog gets out, she said. Last time it took me days to unpack the van.
Still, Tracey had a pile of clothes on the bed and some important papers and photos pulled and ready to go.
But with a garden hose laid across her front porch, she said she was prepared to stay as long as she could, at least until flames were in site.
Her dog Kane waited nervously at her side.
Views of a large wall of smoke could be seen to the east from the popular Beauregard Vineyards on Pine Flat Road
Owner and winemaker Ryan Beauregard sipped a glass of pinot nervously.
I'm hoping it's not the last one I have here, he said.
Beauregard was doubting his fortunes after remembering he had bought his Bonny Doon property, or went into escrow, on the day the Martin Fire started. On Wednesday, the day this fire began, he, his wife and their child had just moved onto the new property.
What are the chances of that, he said.
Alexa McNerney had come from San Jose to live with her father in Bonny Doon just last month.
Its been pretty quiet, she said. At least until last night.
Her father Clark spotted the smoke shortly after the fire began and they slept a little uneasy through the night. Waking this morning with scratchy throats because of the smoke, they began packing.
I think we got the most important things coffee pot, dog food, Clark said. Really, as long as were OK, that's really what it boils down to.
Linnaea Holgers was surprised by the intensity of the fire and the bright orange of the flames. On Wednesday night, she drove to Mill Canyon to help her boyfriend's 12-year-old daughter evacuate.
"We got the bunnies and all her stuff," said Holgers. "It was really stressful."
At Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, which offered a place to sleep for evacuees, many people had been in and out all day, Red Cross volunteer coordinator Diane Bridgeman said.
"Several dozen have been in and out. They'll check in, get some food, then leave and come back later. Many people prefer to stay with friends and we understand that, but because of our history of recent fires, people seem to really know the drill," she said. "They get out, take responsibility, and they work cooperatively with each other. That's been really wonderful, the experience base to work from."
Although the fire is called the Lockheed Fire because it began so close to the company's 3,800-acre property on Wednesday evening, spokeswoman Lynn Fisher with Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. said Thursday that flames are not a threat to the company's 30 office and manufacturing buildings or 70 support structures on the campus. The facility is open for normal operations today.
Fisher called damage to Lockheed land "limited" along the northwest perimeter of the property, "well away from any structures." She said the fire had turned away from Lockheed property about two miles south.
"Lockheed Martin has offered any and all assistance we can provide to the CDF, and fire crews are using our property as a staging area, using highest points of the property to view fire movements and pull water from a nearby lake to combat the fire," Fisher said in an e-mail.
Fisher said Lockheed Martin has done "extensive thinning" around buildings and "established large fire breaks." The campus, which operates as a testing facility for Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., stores tanks of diesel, gasoline and propane on site, but the amount is less than that at an average gas station, Fisher said.
The campus does not have its own fire department, and Lockheed personnel coordinate with Bonny Doon Fire Department and Cal Fire, Fisher said. The company does maintain an Environmental and Safety Department on site.
About three miles away from the fire, Lehi Park on Empire Grade Road is closed to campers but host Jim Kloepfer and his wife are standing their ground until it becomes mandatory for them to leave.
The couple watches over the 1,200-acre camp, and all those who stay within it. Only about eight campers were in the park when the fire began to take off.
As of 3 p.m. today, Kloepfer said the winds were taking the fire away from the camp, decreasing his concern for the grounds that are normally quite peaceful, he said.
"I don't feel threatened anymore; right now we're watching planes fly, dropping (fire retardant) down there toward Swanton and Davenport," Kloepfer said. "We decided yesterday that we would stay here because we wanted to make sure everyone here was OK."
Bosch Baha'i School on Comstock Lane has closed and cancelled all classes for the weekend due to the fire threat.
According to the school's Web site, as a precautionary measure the neighborhoods surrounding Bosch Baha'i School were asked to evacuate the premises.
"The campus is secure and all of the guests, volunteers, and staff are on their way to safety in homes offered to us by our dear and generous friends in the surrounding Baha'i communities," Missy Martin posted on the school's Web site.
Lockheed Fire as of 12:30 p.m.
ACRES BURNING: 2,800
STARTED: 7:15 p.m. Wednesday
CONTAINMENT: Zero percent
LOCATION: In the Bonny Doon area and Smith drainage
EVACUATIONS: Mandatory evacuations for the Bonny Doon area affecting 500-1,000 homes and 300 people in the Swanton area. Other roads affected include Swanton Road, Swanton View Road, Mill Creek Road, Last Chance Road, Warnella Truck Trail, Rancho Del Oso and Penstock.
CAUSE: Under investigation.
ROAD CLOSURES: CHP at 11 a.m. today were directing traffic away from Bonny Doon. There are hard road closures at Bonny Doon and Smith Grade roads; Empire Grade and Alba roads; and Felton Empire and Empire Grade roads. Roads at least partially closed today include Empire Grade, Swanton Road, Bonny Doon Road, Pine Flat Road, Ice Cream Grade and Smith Grade.
STRUCTURES THREATENED: 1000. No reports of buildings destroyed.
FIRE CREWS: 2,000 firefighters; 10 helicopters; 8 air tankers; Firefighters said they are bringing in 'hundreds of engines.'
Source: Cal Fire
Emergency contact information
Evacuation center: Pacific School in Davenport, at 50 Ocean St.
Red Cross: Vintage Church, Mission and King streets, Santa Cruz.
Volunteer: Call Volunteer Centers of Santa Cruz County, call 427-5070.
Animal Services: Santa Cruz Animal Services is helping with large animal evacuations. For information, call 454-7303.