The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors defended their response to the CZU Lightning Complex Fire, after the civil grand jury blasted them for, the jury said, failing to learn the right lessons after the blaze which burned more than 86,500 acres in Santa Cruz and San Mateo Counties over five weeks in August and September of 2020.
The fire also claimed one fatality, a man who was caught by the flames as he attempted to evacuate his home only to find the single road leading from his home cut off by fire.
In a report issued on June 24 of this year, the grand jury criticized the supervisors for failing to take to heart the recommendations of its 2020 report, which the jurors titled “Ready? Aim? Fire! Santa Cruz County on the Hot Seat.” That report pleaded with the county to improve its fire protection practices or face an “increased risk of danger.”
Six weeks later, an electrical storm unleashed about 11,000 lightning strikes igniting a series of fires that collectively became known as the CZU Complex.
The June 24 grand jury report, “The CZU Lightning Complex Fire – Learn...or Burn?” described Santa Cruz County residents as “irate” over the county’s “response, evacuation, and future preparation in the aftermath” of the fire disaster.
“The supervisors, elected to their positions by our community, fail to recognize that they are responsible to adequately address these concerns,” the grand jury wrote.
But in their Sept. 20 published response, the supervisors said that they “partially” disagreed. They said that the county had created the county Office of Response, Recovery and Resilience, known as OR3, to coordinate both the response to the CZU FIre, and “readiness and response preparations to future disasters and to build resiliency in response to climate change impacts.”
The response also noted that Supervisors Bruce McPherson and Ryan Coonerty had been appointed as an ad hoc committee to “monitor and oversee the implementation of the County’s recovery and resilience work.” But in a separate letter to the grand jury, those two supervisors declined to respond individually to the grand jury report.
The grand jury also accused the Board of failing to “adequately respond to their constituents' concerns and questions,” but the supervisors flatly disagreed with that one.
“The OR3 is engaged in constituent support for fire recovery and has developed a monthly newsletter and website to disseminate important and timely information to concerned stakeholders,” the supervisors wrote.
The grand jury made five recommendations for future action by the Board of Supervisors, but the board said it would not implement four of them, and said one required “further analysis.” The grand jury said that the Board should investigate the response by the state’s firefighting agency, Cal Fire. But the supervisors demurred, saying Cal Fire was a state agency over which the county lacked any authority.
Read the Santa Cruz Sentinel coverage of the supervisors’ response to the grand jury at this link.