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Summit Fire: Look at Rebuilding 3 Years Later

Summit Fire: Look at Rebuilding 3 Years Later

Santa Cruz Sentinel

May 29, 2011

SUMMIT — Fire has a rich, and devastating, history all its own.

The Summit Fire ripped through more than 4,000 acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains three years ago, on May 22, 2008, destroying 34 homes and 82 “outbuildings” and more than 160 vehicles. Lasting five days, it also destroyed residents’ treasured possessions, animals and so many other things.

Three years later, wildflowers color the steep hillsides and the grass looks healthy in a remote area with awe-inspiring views and an off-the-grid feel. But many trees are gone, or are blackened shells, looking forlorn amidst the beauty of the natural scenery. And amidst the architectural splendor and architectural squalor of the mix of folks who live there.

Looking across the mountains, the path of the blaze is still visible. The area is a about a 30-minute drive from Highway 17 and Summit Road, with the last section of the drive on narrow, mountainous, dirt roads. Piles of branches, dirt from construction and other debris are sprinkled throughout, and many of the nicer driveways are fronted by locked, steel gates.

Property owners include wealthy business owners, a Buddhist organization, an infamous motorcycle “club,” retired firefighters and other notables.

County planning officials estimate just five residents have gotten permits to rebuild, or are in the process. The county cut building permit costs 60 percent for those rebuilding from the fire, and gave them priority in the review chain.

Some have been grateful for that, some are still hot at the county for its fire response, lack of attention to the area’s roads and other issues. Others who had lived there in dwellings that were never up to code have simply hauled a new trailer up the hill. Some have left the area; one family wanted to live in a less remote area anyway, and moved to a Soquel area property to grow organic lemons. The sons of one elderly couple who lost valued antiques in the fire rebuilt their parent’s home.

On one road, Ormsby Trail, there were 10 homes standing on the day of the fire. Three of those are being rebuilt, plus a fourth on land previously vacant, a longtime resident said.

None who were home that day will ever forget.