Firefighter's wallet stolen, bank account emptied during Calif. wildfire battle

Officials said a CAL FIRE ground commander battling the CZU Lightning Complex fell victim to looters who broke into his vehicle

Rusty Simmons
San Francisco Chronicle

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — A Santa Cruz firefighter battling the CZU Lightning Complex this weekend returned to his work vehicle to find his wallet stolen and his bank account drained, authorities said Sunday morning.

“It’s saddening. It’s sickening,” Cal Fire Operations Chief Mark Brunton said.

Officials said the fires in southern San Mateo County and northern Santa Cruz County had burned 71,000 acres and were only 8% contained at 7 a.m. Sunday. Damage inspection teams were arriving to survey locations where the fire had diminished, but already 115 structures have been destroyed and 24,323 were threatened.

Among the 1,349 personnel responding to the fires was the ground commander whose wallet was stolen. Though approximately 77,000 have been evacuated from the area, authorities have had trouble keeping out looters.

In incidents separate from the one involving the firefighter, five people suspected of looting were arrested Friday in Santa Cruz County, county officials said.

“Frankly, I can’t believe someone would have the nerve to break into a firefighter’s vehicle or enter their vehicle to steal something from them, while they’re there to protect the community,” said Chief Deputy Chris Clark of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office.

Officials asked residents to leave evacuation areas and not return. They also warned about scams in the area, including callers pretending to be from PG&E and asking for money.

Another scam, officials said, was a purported fake GoFundMe account, claiming to be established in support of the firefighter whose wallet was stolen. Cal Fire and Santa Cruz County officials asked that donations instead be made to Red Cross or the county’s community foundation.


©2020 the San Francisco Chronicle


McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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