CZU fire destroys more homes than 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in Santa Cruz County

In a stunning milestone, the number of houses, commercial
buildings and other structures destroyed in the CZU Lightning
Complex fire still burning in the Santa Cruz Mountains has now
surpassed the number destroyed in Santa Cruz County during the 1989
Loma Prieta Earthquake.

As of Tuesday night, 1,431 structures in Santa Cruz County had
been destroyed in the massive fire, sparked by lightning on Aug.
16, compared with 1,084 destroyed there by the Loma Prieta
earthquake 31 years ago.

The fire is now the 9th most destructive wildfire in California
history, ranked by structures destroyed.

For the past three decades, the 6.9 magnitude earthquake has
been a landmark event in Santa Cruz County — and Bay Area —
history. Yet as fire crews continue to put out the CZU Fire, which
wiped out whole communities around Boulder Creek and Bonny Doon,
and burned all of Big Basin Redwoods State Park, a new chapter is
being written, with the full scale only now coming into focus.

“The fire caused widespread devastation with little pockets of
homes that survived,” said Ryan Coonerty, a Santa Cruz County
supervisor. “It’s almost like what you see with tornadoes where
you have three houses knocked down and one remaining. There are
vast areas that have been burned to the ground. I’ve never seen
anything like it.”

Coonerty was 15 when the 1989 quake — the largest in Northern
California since the 1906 temblor that leveled San Francisco—
hit. The shaking, seen by millions watching Game 3 of the World
Series between the Giants and A’s on television, wrecked the Bay
Bridge, San Francisco’s Marina District and Oakland’s Cypress
Structure Freeway. It also leveled much of Santa Cruz’s historic
downtown — aging brick buildings built on soft soil — because
the epicenter was eight miles away, in the Forest of Nisene Marks
State Park in Aptos.

work on Virginia Avenue in Boulder Creek, Calif., on Aug. 21, 2020.
(Dai Sugano/ Bay Area News Group)�

Landslides closed Highway 17 for a month. The violent shaking
wrecked homes from Boulder Creek to Watsonville. For longtime
residents, the quake remains a singular milestone. People still
discuss where they were on that Oct. 17, when the San Andreas Fault

Coonerty was at football practice at Santa Cruz High School. In
the weeks after, he helped his family rescue thousands of books
from the rubble of their family business, Bookshop Santa Cruz, on
Pacific Avenue. Afterward, they stayed afloat by operating in tents
with other demolished businesses, until the downtown was rebuilt
several years later. The final new building broke ground last

“To recover, it took everyone pulling together,†he said.
“Everyone tried to not just rebuild what was there, but to build
something new and better. We did that after the 1989 quake and I
think we can do that again now.â€

The earthquake destroyed 774 residences in Santa Cruz County,
according to
a report completed in 1990
by the state Division of Mines and
Geology, which estimated the damages at $433 million. Adjusted for
inflation, that is $904 million today.

Although no total has yet been tallied for damages from the CZU
Complex fire — which by Tuesday night had burned 85,378 acres,
and was 45% contained, the cost could come close to, or exceed, the
earthquake’s damage total in Santa Cruz County. Of the structures
destroyed in Santa Cruz County in the fire, so far 911 are
residences, including 14 in rural San Mateo County.

Like Coonerty, Nathan Fry experienced both disasters. He was 5
years old when the earthquake hit Santa Cruz and his babysitter
threw him and his brother under an oak table. Their house on the
edge of town pretty much split in half and his family had to live
elsewhere for more than a year. Now, his home in Bonny Doon has
burned down.

But Fry, a 35-year-old farmer, takes a spiritual view of the two

“The universe has a plan for you,†he said Tuesday. “I
don’t think it throws anything at you that you can’t handle,
whether it’s fire, earthquake or flood. I’m grateful to be

1989 Loma Prieta earthquake opened large fissures on Summit Road in
Santa Cruz County, Calif. (Jim Gensheimer/Mercury News) 

William Kelly was renting a room a few miles north of Boulder
Creek in a home that was destroyed by the fire. When the earthquake
hit, Kelly was in San Francisco watching the World Series on

“It’s easier to accept an earthquake than it is to accept a
fire,†said Kelly, 65, a retired salesman. “The earthquake is
one quick blast. Now we’re on Day 12 and we’ve still got a fire

Kelly said one big difference is the amount of support offered
to affected residents. “I drove by and saw the FEMA trailer and I
thought, ‘Where were you in ’89?’†he said.

Then, Gov. George Deukmejian toured the damage, as did President
George H.W. Bush. On Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom visited. Then,
downtown Santa Cruz, which had been on the National Register of
Historic Places, was leveled. Now, the 1936 headquarters at Big
Basin Redwoods Park, also on the National Register, burned to

In the 1989 earthquake, far more homes in Santa Cruz County were
damaged than in the fire: 13,329 compared to 86 now. Then, brick
chimneys on thousands of homes fell through roofs, and some homes
had damaged foundations. But they were repaired.

It took two-and-a-half years for Steve Rahm to rebuild his home
after it burned down in the 2017 fires in Santa Rosa’s Coffey
Park neighborhood. He said hiring people to remove debris, working
with insurance companies, county officials and contractors, is
slow. But he and his wife love their new house, which they moved
into in February, more than the one they lost.

“We had a lot of people come in and try to buy land here,â€
he said. “People were low-balling at the beginning. I’d
recommend that people in Santa Cruz County tackle each problem
thoughtfully and carefully. You are making decisions out of anger
and fear at first, and you really need to take your time and think
about it. Be patient.â€

DOON, CA – AUGUST 27: Charred cars sit near the remains of a
house from the CZU Lightning Complex Fire on a parcel off Vick
Drive in Bonny Doon, Calif., on Thursday, Aug., 27, 2020. (Ray
Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 
Source: FS – All – Real Estate News 1
CZU fire destroys more homes than 1989 Loma Prieta
earthquake in Santa Cruz County