Residents and businesses of the Santa Cruz mountains are just beginning to assess the damage done by the recent Summit forest fire, which started May 22 and destroyed 4,270 acres in a week.
The first major fire of the season in Northern California destroyed 36 houses and 64 outbuildings, forcing 1,000 people to evacuate their homes. It cost an estimated $16.1 million to suppress.
Christine Camacho, a first-year animal science major, lives in the area of the Summit fire and went home two weeks ago to see its disastrous effects.
“The area looked like a big black forest, no sign of life or anything was seen around there,” Camacho said. “At night it was an eerie orange glow … I could smell the smoke two towns away. It spread so quickly that nobody expected it.”
The fire burned through everything in its path with no discretion, Camacho said. A no-kill animal shelter Camacho works for was destroyed in the fire. The entire property and animal sanctuary was burned to the ground, killing most of the animals in the no-kill shelter, she said.
Although the fire left a massive trail of destruction, the Santa Cruz fire crews were as prepared as they could have been, said Nathan Trauernicht, assistant chief of operations with the UC Davis Fire Department.
“Very little can be done to anticipate these kinds of things,” he said. “Even with preventative measures, accidents happen, and people are careless.”
While no Yolo County fire crews were directly involved, the threat of an equally damaging fire is very real to the Sacramento area, Trauernicht said.
“Wildfire is one of the most significant threats to this area,” he said. “Santa Cruz is wetter than the Sacramento area. Davis is very, very dry, which helps create all the right pieces for a busy fire season.”
Trauernicht said preventive efforts are key, and that people should monitor risky activities such as yard waste burning, camping, weed abatement and outdoor recreation. The UC Davis Fire Department does basic community fire education in schools and community groups and prepares for fire season year round, he said.
There has not yet been a significant wildland fire in the immediate area in the latest fire season, but the possibility of a fire or other natural disaster in the area certainly cannot be excluded.
“It’s possible that a fire of that magnitude can happen here – never say never,” said Venessa Voyles, director of preparedness for Yolo County Red Cross. “Fires are a big risk especially with a dry summer coming.”
The Yolo county Red Cross hasn’t had a local major natural disaster to respond to recently, Voyles said, “but we are duly prepared for a disaster of the magnitude of the Summit fire.”
The Red Cross, like local fire departments, educates the community about disaster preparedness and is prepared with shelters and amenities to respond to any major disaster in the area.
Although it’s difficult to fathom a major fire or disaster like the Summit fire hitting the Davis area, Yolo County is prepared on multiple levels to deter and combat fires and disasters whenever they might arise, Voyles said.
KELLY KRAG-ARNOLD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.