BOULDER CREEK, Santa Cruz County – At the top of a cul-de-sac lined with burned homes, Antonia Bradford stood before what was once her cathedral-like house, surrounded by singed redwood trees. Little was recognizable in the rubble but a charred car, a chicken coop, a butterfly-shaped chair and a bathtub.
When the CZU Lightning Complex fires ripped through the Santa Cruz Mountains six weeks ago, Bradford, her husband and five children were suddenly homeless — along with thousands of others. Her family stayed in a hotel, then with friends as they scoured for rentals, watching listings disappear and prices rise.
“It’s pretty wild, it’s pretty bad,” Bradford said. “Housing has been a huge issue in Santa Cruz County for quite some time now. Right now it’s a supply-and-demand situation and people raising prices so high it’s pushing people off the mountain.”
When lightning sparked the CZU fires in mid-August, around 60,000 people – 1 in 5 Santa Cruz County residents – evacuated. The blaze destroyed 925 homes and three multifamily residences. The fire affected some of the most affordable housing in the county, adding pressure on an already costly and competitive market amid a statewide housing crisis. With the Glass Fire raging in Wine Country, a similar dynamic might play out in the North Bay, where thousands of homes are threatened.
The sudden need for housing was worsened by the pandemic limiting shelter capacity. Complicating it further was that the county had never dealt with a fire on this scale.
Meanwhile, a government-run program booking evacuees free hotel rooms got off to a bumpy start, officials and residents said. In one case, a couple with health issues slept in a friend’s abandoned trailer before they learned about the program. In another, a nurse only got a room when she no