Two separate wildfires broke out on campus in August. The first occurred early on Aug. 9 near the North Remote Parking Lot, caused by an improperly extinguished campfire that spread out of control. Campus police Chief Nader Oweis said five fire agencies responded, including the City of Santa Cruz Fire Department, Cal Fire and the City of Scotts Valley Fire Department. The fire grew to half an acre by the time it was extinguished about half an hour later. Firefighters from the Cal Fire department monitored the scene all day in the event it sparked back up.
Four days later, in the early hours of Aug. 13, a similar fire broke out just outside the boundaries of Henry Cowell State Park near campus. It consumed a quarter of an acre and fire crews fought for about an hour in the dark to contain it. This fire, like the one before, was also determined to be caused by an illegal and improperly extinguished campfire.
Last fall and winter quarters, a series of five fires, including a multi-acre brush fire on Aug. 26, 2013, and two incidents in October and January were deemed arson. UC Santa Cruz news and media relations interim director Guy Lasnier explained wildfires of this nature do not occur often on campus. However, any small incident can escalate given the severity of the drought.
The fire warnings arrive in the wake of a new merge between campus and city fire departments. On July 1, the City of Santa Cruz Fire Department took over all staffing and administrative responsibilities for UCSC.
“The campus fire crew needed money and resources to bolster the department,” said UCSC fire chief Jeff Trapp. “The move away from the campus fire department ultimately means better fire coverage for the campus at a lower cost in the long run.”
UCSC was only one of two UCs with its own department, Lasnier said. There had been rumblings of a switch like this since 1975 when the UCSC Fire Department first formed, but it wasn’t until two years ago that serious talks began. They hired an outside consultant to take a look into department structure, personnel, insurance liability and economic feasibility. The consultant drafted a plan to keeping sustainability of the campus department in mind.
Prior to the official merger, a number of steps were taken to ensure a smooth transition. Trapp said members of both departments participated in joint training and the city supervised the campus crew to help work out the differences between the two departments.
There were no cuts to the emergency services and the campus fire station remains open with three firefighters always on duty, Trapp said.