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Steep Terrain Challenges Bear Fire Firefighters

Erika Mahoney
A helicopter carrying water flies to the Bear Fire burning in the Santa Cruz Mountains. On Tuesday, CalFire utilized nine helicopters.



CalFire continues fighting a wildfire in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Called the Bear Fire, it's burning in steep terrain that’s hard to access. So attacking the fire from the air has been crucial.

On Tuesday, nine helicopters carrying buckets of water flew back and forth over Boulder Creek Road. Located about a mile from the fire, it’s where CalFire, CHP, and Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s staged their vehicles after the fire broke out Monday night.


The road is dotted with homes and a couple of vineyards. It's long and windy, but it’s paved and has two lanes. Much unlike the narrow dirt roads where ground crews are working.  


CalFire’s Angela Bernheisel says in addition to challenging access routes, the fire is also burning in very steep and dry terrain.  


"There’s a lot of trees that are falling, that are burning. And they’re interior to the fire so they’re going to be burning for a long time," says Bernheisel.


The terrain proved challenging early on. Five firefighters sustained minor injuries. As of Tuesday night, 600 personnel were working on the fire. CalFire says they’re getting all of the resources they need even with other fires burning across the state.


"We had initial resources coming from all over Santa Cruz County and Santa Clara County and throughout the hours of the day we’re getting additional resources coming from farther away," Bernheisel says.


Including the National Guard, which is coming Wednesday.

Evacuations remain in place around the fire. 150 homes are threatened. Patty Ciesla, Executive Director of Santa Clara County Firesafe Council, showed up to Boulder Creek Road Tuesday. She says having an evacuation plan that includes a written list of everything you need to bring is necessary.

"You should have a bag set aside with the list in it. You should have the names and phone numbers and contact information of all your family written down if your cell phone dies," says Ciesla.


The cause of the fire is still under investigation. But CalFire says it started at a structure in Boulder Creek.




Erika joined KAZU in 2016. Her roots in radio began at an early age working for the independent community radio station in her hometown of Boulder, Colorado. After graduating from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in 2012, Erika spent four years working as a television reporter. She’s very happy to be back in public radio and loves living in the Monterey Bay Area.
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