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05.21.08

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Photographs by Will Mosher
On Thursday, Nathon Zazzara had to abandon an effort to save the house near Nisene Marks that his father built by hand. "He was going to stay until who knows when," he said of his father.

Home Fires Burning

Sudden loss and rattled nerves on the first day of the Santa Cruz Mountains wildfire

By Steve Hahn

05.22.08 - 17:18pm

The Summit fire that engulfed the Santa Cruz Mountains around Corralitos on Thursday hit the small, tight-knit rural community without warning, resulting in some last-minute heroism and a great deal of anxious waiting. Hours after the early-morning blaze was first detected, dozens of cars lined Corralitos Road and Hames Road as highway patrolmen blocked off Eureka Canyon Road. No one was allowed back up the mountain, even those who had left for work in the morning and been given no opportunity to gather valuables or rescue pets. At nearby Bradley Elementary School, officials with dust masks ferried children to waiting parents, while the remaining children stayed inside. There was a lot of nervous pacing around the cars parked near the Corralitos Market.

Leaning on the side of one of these cars was Nathon Zazzara, a man in his mid-30s with a deceptively calm look on his face. He was enjoying an apple only hours after having been forced to abandon the battle to save his father's home on Dove Lane near Nisene Marks Forest, which was one of at least 10 structures that the over 2,000-acre fire had destroyed by midday Thursday (four hours later, aided by relentless winds, it had grown to almost 3,000 acres). Zazzara was unhappy at the loss of a house he'd watched his father build plank by plank, but for now, he's just happy that his family got out safe.

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Horses are led across Corralitos Road on Thursday afternoon. Many horse trailers were seen leaving the Corralitos neighborhoods.

"My father built that house out of wood he hand-selected from the lumberyard, to get only the very best," Zazzara remembers. "I have a lot of great memories watching my father build that when I was young, but the main thing is just that I was able to get my father out of there. Even after the fire battalion chief told us to leave, he was going to stay until who knows when."

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Parents arrive at Bradley Elementary School on Corralitos Road, one of three schools that was closed on Thursday.

As Zazzara spoke, a middle-aged woman with dark hair ran up to him and asked if he knew how she could get back to her house. When he told her there was no way for the time being, she grew distraught and complained that she had left her dog behind since he wouldn't get in the car with her. Now he was up there all alone. Down the road a bit, Dave Loveless was directing evacuees into the Corralitos Community Church, where families could park their cars, get out of the smoke, have some coffee and listen in to the latest news from the fire's front lines. He reported a general sense of frustration amongst the evacuees, many of whom were unable to gather valuables or mementos before it was too late.

"A lot of people left to go to work in the morning," he says. "They left all their animals up there and it's a one-way road, so they can't let people go back up there. The fire crews need the access. But people are definitely frustrated. When you're focusing on your pets and family, it's hard to see the big picture."

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You can't blame 'em.

Closer to the road blockade on Eureka Canyon, District 3 County Supervisor Ellen Pirie was on the scene. She had just received assurances from the California Department of Forestry that help was on the way. A "supertanker" helicopter and 500 crews from Southern California were on their way to help contain the wind-swept fire (40 crews, totaling about 500 firefighters, were already on the scene). She said fire officials were attempting to hold the fire to 4,000 acres, but winds were extremely powerful, so it would be hard to know if they'll succeed.

"We don't know how many structures have been destroyed yet, but we know hundreds more are at risk," Pirie said. "It's really hard to tell because it's very rugged terrain."


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