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Morning Lookout: Wildfires near containment, inequitable vaccine distribution, UCSC student sues police

Good Morning! It’s Friday, Jan. 22.

Santa Cruz County’s roller coaster winter of 2021 is moving ahead full steam: After this week’s warmth and wildfires, today’s forecast calls for rain and a high of 55. In fact, the Bay Area will be hit with several storms in coming days — weather systems that our Isabella Cueto reports could bring heavy wind and rain to the mountains, sparking concerns about debris flows.

Meanwhile, today’s rain will no doubt aid firefighters as they work to put out the last dredges of the fires countywide. Meanwhile, thousands remain without power days after the fires began early Tuesday, and we have a special report today that dives deep into whether the fires could have been prevented.

Also, last night, Lookout’s Chris Fusco and Mallory Pickett talked with public health experts Dr. Gail Newel, Dr. Marm Kilpatrick and Erica Padilla-Chavez, asking them as many of your questions as possible about the pandemic and vaccine. What emerged was a frank conversation about the inequities of the virus and the vaccine rollout in Santa Cruz.

But before we get to that, here are additional updates on the fires, a lawsuit against the UC Santa Cruz police and more:

Wildfire updates

Inmate firefighters work in Boulder Creek on Jan. 20, 2021 after more than a dozen fires broke out in Santa Cruz County.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Fire containment: Firefighters reported full containment of several wildfires in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties last night, issuing final updates for the China Grade, North Butano and Bloom fires. As of about 6 p.m., here’s where we stand on the fires yet to be contained:

  • Freedom Fire: 37 acres, 85% contained at Freedom Boulevard and Hames Road in Aptos Hills-Larkin Valley.
  • Panther Ridge Fire: 20 acres, 95% contained, on Stapp Road, east of Highway 9.

Outages: PG&E reports power was restored to thousands of homes Thursday — though 6,951 customers remained without power as of 5 p.m., as the third day of a widespread outage drew to a close. Here’s the breakdown of ongoing power outages:

  • Aptos: 124
  • Ben Lomond: 403
  • Boulder Creek: 3,286
  • Brookdale: 1
  • Felton: 1,141
  • Santa Cruz: 1,138
  • Scotts Valley: 582
  • Soquel: 68
  • Watsonville: 208
  • TOTAL: 6,951

Read more wildfire and power outage updates from our Lookout team coverage here.

Burning question: Could wildfires have been avoided had PG&E done preemptive shutoff? Widespread power outages and the eruption of unseasonal wildfires in Santa Cruz County this week are once again putting PG&E’s infrastructure — and decision-making — under a microscope. Unlike during wind events in the fall, the utility did not call for a Public Safety Power Shutoff in Santa Cruz County this week, saying afterward that it evaluated the situation and the criteria for a PSPS were not met. Local officials, including Cal Fire CZU Unit Chief Ian Larkin and Santa Cruz County Second District Supervisor Zach Friend are among those wondering how that decision was made. Read more about what our Nick Ibarra, Mallory Pickett and Patrick Riley learned in their reporting here.

PHOTOS: Incredible images by Lookout’s Kevin Painchaud of inmates helping firefighting efforts at Boulder Creek’s Panther Ridge fire

The local beat

An image distributed by attorneys for Sabrina Shirazi.
An image distributed by attorneys for Sabrina Shirazi purports to show a police officer raising a baton in front of her at a Feb. 10, 2020, demonstration at the UCSC entrance.
(Stephan Bitterwolf / Contributed)

Doctoral student sues UCSC police over alleged battery at strike demonstration: A new development in the UC Santa Cruz wildcat grad student strike nearly a year later: Fifth-year doctoral candidate Sabrina Shirazi has filed a civil rights lawsuit against campus police, claiming she was battered by officers and left concussed during a demonstration last year. “I spent the next month in bed, unable to even sit upright,” Shirazi said in a statement distributed by an attorney. Read more about her allegations — and UCSC’s response — from our Nick Ibarra here.

Wallace Baine’s ‘The Here & Now’: For Santa Cruz County musician Keith Greeninger, online concerts aren’t merely a stopgap until things are normal again. They are, instead, a new kind of presentation for live music that will not be going away, even if COVID-19 does. Read about Greeninger’s virtual concert this weekend, a slew of new books by Santa Cruzans (including one by our photo contributor Kevin Painchaud and the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s Shmuel Thaler) and other cultural and dining happenings here.

COVID 2021 updates

Gail Newel, Marm Kilpatrick and Pajaro Valley Student Assistance CEO Erica Padilla-Chavez
Santa Cruz County Health Officer Gail Newel, UC Santa Cruz epidemiologist Marm Kilpatrick and Pajaro Valley Student Assistance CEO Erica Padilla-Chavez offer insight to the COVID-19 pandemic during a Lookout event Thursday night.
(Screenshot)

Santa Cruz County leaders warn of inequitable vaccine distribution during Lookout event: Amid a vaccine rollout hamstrung by limited supplies and logistical challenges, Santa Cruz County government and community leaders sounded alarms Thursday night about how vaccine distribution in South County is lagging even further behind. The pandemic already has exposed and exacerbated existing inequities across the country, health and community-outreach experts said during our event. And South County, home to a large chunk of the county’s Latinx population, is no exception — especially when it comes to vaccine distribution. Read more about what they said from our Patrick Riley here. And If you missed last night’s event, you can watch it on our YouTube channel here.

We learned a lot of new things from our health experts last night and we will continue to report on the information that came out of that 90-minute chat. If you haven’t already, I suggest signing up for my colleague Mark Conley’s COVID text alerts here to get the latest virus developments straight to your phone.

#BOLO: Later this afternoon, we expect to learn even more about COVID-19 and the vaccine rollout as Santa Cruz County Health officials hold a 1 p.m. press conference. Be On The Lookout on our website for a livestream.

COVID-19 cases, new syndrome on the rise among children, especially Latino children: MIS-C, a rare inflammatory syndrome, was discovered last year in children who had previously had coronavirus. It is marked by overwhelming inflammation in the body that sometimes impacts major organs and can lead to heart failure. So far, 176 children in California have been diagnosed with the inflammatory syndrome, and the racial inequity of COVID-19 among adults is mirrored in the number of children being diagnosed with COVID-19. Read more from our content partner, CalMatters here.

‘It’s changed who I am’: The life of a Santa Cruz County nurse in the pandemic: The pandemic has taken a toll on Dominican Hospital ER nurse Kirsten Palmquist and her family. Long days. Endless streams of patients. Surges on top of surges. But she is steadfast in her commitment to her calling, and, after months, the vaccine is bringing a glimmer of hope. Our Patrick Riley profiles Palmquist as part of our “People in the Pandemic” series here.

Around the county . . .

Watsonville Community Hospital owners abruptly ousted (The Pajaronian)

New book of poetry and nature photos reflects on healing (Good Times)

Watsonville man suspected of attempted murder (Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office searches for teen last seen in December (KION-TV)

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

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