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Dramatic decrease in fire spread as crews take advantage of better weather

by Amy Graff, San Francisco Chronicle |

With cool, humid weather and stable winds providing optimal firefighting conditions, crews continued to harness flames and build containment lines overnight around the destructive blaze that has swallowed homes and leveled vast swaths of forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The CZU August Lightning Complex grew less than 200 acres overnight and was 78,869 acres as of Tuesday morning, Cal Fire officials said at a Tuesday morning press briefing. This is a dramatic decrease in the rate of the fire's growth. Last week, there were nights when the blaze grew at a rate of up to 1,000 acres an hour.

The blaze went from 13 percent containment Monday morning to 17 percent containment this morning. The count of homes destroyed has gone up to 330 with 11 of those in San Mateo County and 319 in Santa Cruz County. More than 25,000 structures remain threatened.

"The past couple days we've seen significant progress in our firefight on this incident," said Cal Fire Operations Chief Mark Brunton. "The weather is really cooperating with us.”

Brunton said there's now a solid control line on the north end, protecting the communities of Pescadero, La Honda and Loma Mar.

Along the coast, the fire is "extinguishing itself" due to the high amounts of moisture in the air and lighter fuels on the ground.

Crews have built two control lines on the fire's south edge, between Highway 1 and Highway 9 above the UC Santa Cruz campus. "Fire lines are holding well here," he said. "Santa Cruz and the UC campus looking very well-protected. No threat at this point in time.”

Along Highway 9, Felton, Brookdale and Boulder Creek are all well-protected, Brunton said.

Today, firefighting efforts will be focused not only on further establishing perimeter control, but on opening and clearing roadways to access the interior of the burn area so crews can complete damage inspection and identify private property that was destroyed, said Cal Fire Assistant Chief Billy See.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom called out the CZU August Lightning Complex at a Monday press briefing as an example of a wildfire that has raged out of control due to climate change.

The fire is burning in a coastal area that has historically had a moist landscape "immune" to extreme fire, he said. With temperatures increasing and weather patterns changing, the landscape is drying out and becoming more flammable.