Aptos firemen at the Freedom Fire.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

‘We’ve been through a lot of trauma lately’: Fire evacuees experienced a sense of déjà vu on Tuesday

From the Aptos Hills to Boulder Creek, there was an uncomfortable sense of familiarity on Tuesday as blazes broke out due to gusty winds and dry conditions.

Jennifer Mantle decided to evacuate her home with her children early Tuesday. Her husband stayed behind to keep an eye on things at their home Boulder Creek home.

The high winds on Monday night had her on edge. She knew her family’s safety was at stake with the potential for power lines to fall and spark fires.

High winds whipped through the Santa Cruz Mountains and the entire Bay Area this week, initiating a series of fires and...

Tuesday brought her fears to reality as numerous fires had sparked across the county, resulting in evacuations from the Freedom Fire in Watsonville and the Panther Ridge Fire in Boulder Creek — the latter just two miles from her home.

“We could smell smoke and we could see smoke. But we couldn’t tell how far away it was because it was so windy. It was blowing so fast,” said Mantle, a high school math teacher and mother of two.

The view outside Jennifer Mantle's Boulder Creek house Tuesday morning.
(Courtesy Jennifer Mantle)

Mantle is no stranger to wildfire danger. The CZU Lighting Complex fire forced Mantle and her family to evacuate for three weeks in August, she said.

It wasn’t the only time the family had to relocate last year. A tree that crashed on their house during a storm forced them to flee in February. Repairs were delayed by several months because of COVID-19.

“We’ve been through a lot of trauma lately,” said Mantle.

On Tuesday night, Mantle was grateful to be home with her family. She said she’s thankful that the winds have died down and things are feeling much safer for now.

High winds whipped through the Santa Cruz Mountains and the entire Bay Area on Tuesday morning, stoking a series fires,...

Others weren’t in a position where they could return to their homes.

With 100 mandatory evacuations in the Aptos/Watsonville zone and 20 in the Boulder Creek area, the county opened up a rescue center at the Corralitos Community Church on Tuesday afternoon.

Penny Kleinhans, 66, a resident of Aptos Hills, and her partner came to the center to charge their phones and check for updates. As of late Tuesday afternoon, they were the only residents to have checked in.

They planned to get a hotel room for the night but expressed some anxiousness about that decision given how strictly they’d been following the current “stay-at-home” COVID-19 orders.

Resource center at the Corralitos Community Church.
(Nick Ibarra/Lookout Santa Cruz)

“We’ve been really strictly isolating just to ourselves,” Kleinhans said. “And now we have to interface with a bunch of people, go into a certain place.”

The couple left their home around 9:30 a.m., in advance of evacuation orders. Her partner woke her, saying “one of our neighbors was leaving and said there’s a fire — we need to get out of here.”

While they hadn’t been expecting a fire emergency in January, they were aware if the potentially dangerous conditions and luckily prepared — with plastic bins packed with essentials, ready to be thrown into their truck. The winds Monday night gave them ample warning.

“It was loud . . . it was kind of a rough night,” Kleinhans said.

Have a story from the latest Santa Cruz County fires to share? Send it us at news@lookoutlocal.com.