Watching the sky warily: CZU fire families worry about rebuilds as rain starts
Santa Cruz County residents looking to rebuild after the CZU Complex fire last year are worried about how the rainy season will affect things. Making things more complicated, some are running up against insurance deadlines.
As the skies open up, some Santa Cruz County families rebuilding in the aftermath of the CZU fire are worried about how the rains could affect their efforts — especially as many approach insurance coverage deadlines.
San Lorenzo Valley resident Antonia Bradford said she and her family have set up yurts on their property in lieu of a rebuild for now — but she is concerned about what could come in the coming months. After some light precipitation last weekend, rain started to fall Wednesday morning and is forecast to continue at least through this coming weekend.
“I didn’t expect the rain to come until later this week, so the weather Sunday totally took me by surprise,” she said. “I was so stressed — now, at this point, the air is pregnant with winter, you can feel it coming.”
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Bradford said that her culvert — used to divert or drain water from land above it — was destroyed during the fire, which is concerning because it is the pinch point for water flow for her entire Fallen Leaf neighborhood. She has contacted the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County for help fixing and trenching out the culvert.
Tracy Walker, a resident of Boulder Creek’s Riverside Grove neighborhood, has been waiting since June for a contractor to complete a second geologic hazard evaluation, necessary because the first one found evidence of an ancient landslide.
Currently, the drilling is scheduled for Thursday — but Walker said she is terrified the contractor will cancel due to the forecast rain. And even if it does take place, she’s concerned that the results could keep her from rebuilding at all.
“I have no idea if they would cancel again, but I’m scared that if they do, it could be months more until they can come back and do it,” she said, adding her family has already spent about $50,000 on the process. “We just want to pass our pre-clearances so we can move on, but we can’t do anything until we get this hole drilled.”
The delays have been incredibly frustrating, she said.
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“We were told that we could build by spring, which was eight, nine months ago,” Walker said. “We’ve just been hitting roadblock after roadblock with the county … they don’t really seem to know what they’re doing.”
Dave Reid, director of the county’s Office of Response, Recovery and Resilience, said CZU rebuilds are exempt from many of the otherwise normal requirements and fees. This includes a premium developers usually have to pay to build in the winter months.
That said, there are erosion control requirements that remain mandatory.
“I know that for all of our fire families, time is of the essence, and we want to get them building and under construction as quickly as we can,” he said. “One of the things about building in the rural part of our community, especially in the wintertime, is that we want to make sure that they work with their construction and design team, and pay close attention to the weather.”
Not doing so, he said, could cause even further time and financial delays.
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“We want to take every opportunity to remind folks that they should not have any regulatory burdens or impediments during the winter, but timing will always be this delicate balance with what Mother Nature is providing us in terms of precipitation,” he said.
Bradford said she hadn’t heard from many families regarding their concerns over the rain to this point, largely because they are not able to live on their properties at the moment.
“I think this is kind of background noise for them, but we’re in yurts — how’s this yurt going to handle the winter?” she said. “One of the main parcels affected by the debris flow study is the parcel we built our yurts on.”
Bradford said they now hope to break ground on the rebuild in the spring, because even with the waivers available for the winter months, other aspects of building — including increased erosion control costs — during that time remain more expensive.
As such, Bradford chose to wait — but that’s not an option for other fire survivors.
“One of our neighbors said, no matter what, she has to push forward, because her insurance company will start cutting off their rent,” she said. “That’s been something we’ve been screaming for seven or eight months now, that this was really going to be a problem for people and now, it’s here. Now people are facing these really hard choices — we’re going to start seeing a lot of people in this situation.”
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To help prepare fire families in the case of rainstorms this weekend, Reid said the county has scheduled a countywide Code Red test on Thursday at 10 a.m., which will expand upon the Know Your Zone / Zonehaven program. More information on the test and the notification system is available via scr911.org.