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Morning Lookout: Wildfires in January a new normal? Latest on fires, inauguration day and more

Good Morning! It’s Wednesday, Jan. 20. Today is going to be sunny with a high of 71 — and that’s not necessarily a good thing in light of the wildfires that have erupted since yesterday. Some help for firefighters might be on the way: The National Weather Service is predicting cooler, wetter conditions returning later in the week.

As we focus on the surprising fires in our back yard — read our live updates about them here — most eyes around the country will be turned towards Washington for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, scheduled for 9 a.m. PT.

We’ll get to Washington in a moment. But first, let’s do a fire rundown:

‘Historic event:’ Fires sweep through Santa Cruz in January. Is this our new normal?

Firefighters from Aptos fire work to put out a blaze off of Gillette Rd. in Watsonville on Tuesday afternoon.
Firefighters from Aptos fire work to put out a blaze off of Gillette Rd. in Watsonville on Tuesday afternoon.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

The big disaster concerns for Santa Cruz County this winter were supposed to be debris flows — damage from the summer CZU fires causing massive landslides once the winter rains hit. But those winter rains haven’t come, and the wildfire season effectively hasn’t stopped. It’s the latest example of how climate change is impacting our community and state, potentially creating a cycle of drought, fire, flood, and debris flows year after year. Our Mallory Pickett dives into the lead-up to Tuesday’s disaster and what’s in store for the future. Read the whole thing here.

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‘We’ve been through a lot of trauma lately’: From the Aptos Hills to Boulder Creek, there was an uncomfortable sense of familiarity as wildfires broke out Tuesday just a few months after the CZU Lightning Complex Fires decimated the area. While not many were expecting a fire emergency in January, locals like Penny Kleinhans and Jennifer Mantle have learned to be prepared to get up and go in times of danger. This time around, the toll has been more emotional than physical. Read the stories of two families that evacuated yesterday from freelance contributor Paula Dobbyn and our Nick Ibarra.

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The latest: About 400 Cal Fire crew and 50 local government personnel worked for the second night straight. Since midnight Tuesday, they’ve battled more than a dozen fires and, as of last night, were focused on containing about six major ones. Both the Freedom Fire near Watsonville — which at last check was about 37 acres and 20% contained — and the Panther Ridge Fire in Boulder Creek prompted evacuations. We’re awaiting a morning update from Cal Fire. Keep an eye on our LIVE UPDATES story where we’ll bring you everything you need to know.

PHOTOS: Fire crews battle Freedom Fire near Watsonville Tuesday

Outages in the area on Jan. 20, 2021
(PG&E Outage map)

Is your power on? As of yesterday, a PG&E spokesperson told Lookout more than 22,000 people in the county had lost power, and the utility company’s outage map appears to show little improvement Wednesday morning. We’ll keep you updated on what we learn from PG&E here.

COVID 2021 Updates

COVID Snapshot

Read the latest in our COVID TODAY blog.

Officials hope for resolution ‘soon’ on Moderna batch linked to possible allergic reactions: After pausing use of a specific lot of Moderna coronavirus vaccine following reports of a “higher-than-usual” number of possible allergic reactions at a site in San Diego, state health officials said yesterday that they’re still working to figure out what to do with the rest of the vaccine from that batch. About 5,300 doses of Santa Cruz County’s vaccine inventory — or more than 60% of the remaining 8,210 Moderna doses that are yet to be distributed — are from lot 41L20A. Read how Moderna officials are responding to the investigation here.

Got COVID questions? Get them answered: Tomorrow at 6 p.m., County Health Officer Gail Newel, UC Santa Cruz infectious disease expert Marm Kilpatrick and Erica Padilla-Chavez, CEO of Pajaro Valley Prevention & Student Assistance, will headline our free virtual conversation about the health impacts of the pandemic. You can submit your questions to Lookout ahead of time and in the chat function on Zoom. For the first time at a Lookout event, we’ll offer simultaneous Spanish interpretation, through a separate Zoom audio channel. Submit your questions here and register for the FREE event here.

Biden poised to become 46th president

Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. is poised to become the 46th president of the United States Wednesday, clearing the way for a beleaguered nation to turn the page on one of the most divisive chapters in its political history. Biden will also bear witness to history as Kamala Harris is sworn in as the nation’s first woman, person of color and South Asian American to become vice president. Read more from our content partner the LA Times here.

Around the county…

Hours-long standoff in Watsonville ends peacefully (The Pajaronian)

Warning of a salmonella outbreak in wild birds in Santa Cruz County (KION-TV)

Bandcamp wants to make streaming pay for musicians (Good Times)

That’s it for today. If you’re enjoying our coverage, please tell your family and friends about our Lookout Newsletter & Text Center, where they can sign up for all the newsletters and alerts we offer. You can also keep tabs on everything we’re publishing through the day by bookmarking our website and following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Have a great day!

Tulsi Kamath
Managing Editor