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Cal Fire: Out of control prescribed burn caused Estrada Fire

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, Calif. (KION) Crews fighting the Estrada Fire near Watsonville are making good progress, but questions still remain on how the prescribed burn ended up getting out of control.

The fire was a scary sight for those who live near Mount Madonna. A prescribed burn scheduled for Friday at the Estrada Ranch started burning outside containment lines.

“Towards the end of the afternoon, they had finished off a strip that caused some embers to go across the line,” said Angela Bernheisel, Division Chief for the Cal Fire Santa Cruz-San Mateo Unit (CZU). 

KION asked Bernheisel why Cal Fire would schedule a prescribed burn when the weather has been so hot and windy on the Central Coast. Watsonville hit 89 degrees on Friday.

“When we are doing the burns, we’re looking to meet certain objectives and in order to be able to meet those objectives, we need to burn when the fuel burns well,” said Bernheisel. “Certainly in the afternoon, you see the temperatures go up, the humidity goes down and the winds increase. So that was occurring throughout the day. And so, you know, they were at the limit of the prescription, I would say, but they weren't out of prescription.” 

KION spoke to a resident who didn’t want to go on camera. He says he noticed flames from the controlled burn die down Friday afternoon before reigniting as the winds picked up. Even the towering redwoods were seen going up in flames.

“In the redwood forest, where there’s steeper ground, you get those fuels that start rolling and start a fire below it. So that does contribute to the fire growth that we’re seeing in the trees,” Bernheisel said.

Crews have been working throughout the night to keep the flames from spreading even further. 

Smoke was still seen coming off the burn area on Saturday. Multiple planes were flying overhead dropping retardant to make sure the fire doesn’t start up again.

Cal Fire said the winds have died down and they don’t expect the fire to grow much more in size.

The fire is now at 35% containment at 148 acres and all evacuation warnings have been lifted. Past evacuation orders are now warnings.

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Lisa Principi

Lisa Principi is a reporter at KION News Channel 5/46.

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