California’s ongoing historic wildfires have forced tens of thousands of people from their homes, and police said looters are taking advantage of the empty houses.
In one case, a looter took advantage of an unoccupied car. Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart on Sunday told reporters that a California firefighter’s marked vehicle was burglarized.
During a separate press conference, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), Battalion Chief Mark Brunton called the incident “sickening” and said the firefighter’s wallet was stolen and his bank account was “drained” while he was at work directing firefighting crews in the area.
“That’s the extent these people have gone,” Brunton said. “Again, this is why we’ve asked for people to evacuate. The sheriff’s department has done a fantastic job in trying to wrangle this, but again, this is what we have as a result.”
A spokeswoman for the Santa Cruz County Sheriff said in the incident took place overnight between Friday and Saturday at the Bonny Doon Fire Department.
Hart said the sheriff’s office has assigned a detective to the case. While briefly discussing the case, he said he “can’t imagine a bigger lowlife.”
“To me, it’s just mind-boggling that somebody would have the audacity to do something like that,” Hart told reporters.
He added: “I’m confident we’re going to find that person. When we do, we’re going to keep him in the county jail and then we’re going to hand that case over to the DA and the DA is going to hammer this guy.”
Santa Cruz County is being threatened by the CZU Lightning Complex wildfire, which has burned 67,000 acres and is 5% contained, according to Cal Fire.
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Hart said his department has made eight arrests related to looting so far. Some of the looters have been from outside the area, he said. Others are neighbors. Looters have taken personal possessions inside homes and guns, for example. Hart added a story he heard about a group trying to take an outdoor heating system.
The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office typically has 10 deputies on duty, Hart said. Sunday, the department had 90 officers in the areas impacted the by fires, he said.
There will be more looting arrests in the future, Hart said. Officers now have orders to stop any car in an evacuated area that isn’t a police or fire vehicle — if the person stopped is not “tied to that area, they’re going to go to jail.”
Reports have looting have come from personal security cameras, Cal Fire and from people who have refused to evacuate.
“I have no empathy, I have no patience for somebody who is going to come into our community and steal from people who have been who have been evacuated and victimized and traumatized,” Hart said.