A Ride Into The Bear Fire Burn Zone

Oct 19, 2017

Firefighters are slowly getting the upper hand on the Bear Fire burning east of Boulder Creek. At 320 acres, it's now 30-percent contained. Some evacuation orders have been lifted, but 300 homes are still threatened. KAZU got a first-hand look at the damage.

CalFire Public Information Officer Jordan Motta pulls to the right side of a narrow, dirt road. A fire engine coming back barely squeaks by. We’re driving down Bear Creek Canyon Road.

“This is one of the main in and out roads it’s about 10 foot wide dirt mountain road, winding through the Redwoods here in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It gets us to the fire area,” says Motta.  

We drive past the structure where the fire started. Investigators are sifting through the wreckage to try to figure out the exact cause.

“Was it started by vehicle exhaust? Was it started by arson? Was it started by fireworks? They’ll narrow down almost to the exact moment and square foot where the fire started,” Motta says.

It broke out Monday night and slowly spread through the drought-stricken area. White ash blankets the steep mountainsides as if it’s snowed. Smoldering trees send small plumes of smoke into the air.

But it’s not just wildland out here. Homes dot this dirt road. We pass by a property firefighters were able to save. Signs of just how close it got are near the driveway. A log lying between two statues is still burning; it crackles and pops.  

Others are not as lucky. We quietly pass an empty lot. All that remains is three burned cars. In total, the Bear Fire destroyed four structures.

“Things are very, very dry out here. It’s been what months since it last rained with any significance? So October is typically the most destructive part of fire season in California because it is the longest period since these fuels have gotten any moisture,” Motta says.  

Motta has had a busy month and a busy year. There have been over 6,000 fires in California so far this year. And Motta was just working up in Sonoma County.

“I hadn’t seen a fire as devastating as what I just saw in Santa Rosa and up in Sonoma County. A lot of those people lived in what was pretty much an urban setting and they never expected wildfire to cause their whole community to be lost. It’s something that when I think you live out here in the Santa Cruz Mountains is always in the back of your mind at least,” Motta says.

It wasn’t top of mind for Dave Marzetta until he saw the fires in wine country on the news. He’s lived in the Santa Cruz Mountains for four years. I run into him while he’s checking his mailbox with his dog.

Marzetta got a call  from the coutny to evacuate Monday. He and his family were ready with an evacuation plan. They pulled one together last week after seeing the devastation up north.  

“That pretty much kind of got us going to put something together. And we did. My son-in-law and my daughter put a bunch of emergency stuff together and just thought okay, what do we bring,” Marzetta says.  

He helped evacuate his family and planned to follow.

“Already had a truck packed with all my important stuff, papers, photographs and you know files and all that,” Marzetta says.   

But he and his son-in-law decided to stay.

“We could see the glow and the glow was getting further away. We’re luckier than some, so yeah we’re fine, we’re fine,” Marzetta says.

And CalFire is working around the clock to make that glow disappear.