City officials and public safety authorities are urging residents in the east Morgan Hill foothills to take the SCU Complex fire seriously and flee to safety as soon as they can, even though the area is not yet under an evacuation order.
Furthermore, the SCU Complex fire and the latest weather forecast continue to present increasing risks in the form of spot fires that can be ignited from embers blown miles away from the main fire. Morgan Hill Police Chief Shane Palsgrove said there is a 90 percent chance that the SCU Complex—which is burning in remote terrain to the northeast of Henry W. Coe State Park—will produce smaller spot fires downwind from the larger inferno.
The National Weather Service has issued a “dry lightning warning” for the entirety of the Bay Area and Central Coast, from 11am Sunday to 11am Tuesday. Many of the largest fires burning now in California—including the SCU Complex—were ignited by last weekend’s thunderstorm lightning strikes.
“We’re asking people to leave now under the evacuation warning because that allows people to leave on their terms and they’re not going to have to compete with traffic, and it gives them extra time if they have to come back to get something they forgot,” Palsgrove said.
City officials cautioned that there is only one road—East Dunne Avenue—to get away from the east Morgan Hill area that is currently in the evacuation warning zone. More than 1,000 homes in the Morgan Hill city limits are currently under evacuation warnings. These include the neighborhoods of Holiday Lake Estates and Jackson Oaks.
“If we all try to get on that road at one time, it will be a traffic jam,” said City Council member John McKay, a resident of Jackson Oaks who is preparing to evacuate. “I’m hoping people are getting serious.”
Areas of eastern Gilroy and northern San Benito County are also under an evacuation warning.
Palsgrove said the weather conditions could change rapidly and without notice, and CalFire could upgrade the evacuation warning to an order “at any time.”
“What we don’t want to happen is for people to wait for the order, because we can’t control the weather,” Palsgrove said.
City of Morgan Hill Communications Manager Maureen Tobin reminded residents that the evacuation advisory applies only to these neighborhoods on the eastern edge of the city limits.
She added that the city’s police officers and public works staff have been on the ground in these east Morgan Hill neighborhoods, knocking on doors to alert residents about the evacuation warning. Staff have also been posting relevant information about the SCU Complex fire on the city’s website and social media pages.
Residents should sign up for the AlertSCC mobile phone notification system, Tobin added. This system sends out automated alerts and updates for residents who are most directly affected by emergencies such as the SCU Complex fire.
City staff also urged residents to call or text the Morgan Hill call center (408) 762-1635 if they have any questions about the emergency. The line might not be answered live, but voicemail and text messages will be responded to, Tobin said.
“It’s time for people to remain calm, keep themselves aware and look for legitimate sources of info,” Tobin said.
The SCU Complex fire is burning in multiple locations in Santa Clara, Alameda, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties. As of Aug. 21, it has burned more than 229,000 acres, according to CalFire. The SCU Complex incident page includes information on a list of resources for residents who are evacuating, including assistance for animals, road closures and evacuation centers.
The closest evacuation resource center to affected Morgan Hill residents has been set up at Sobrato High School, 401 Burnett Ave.
Properties on the east side of Anderson Lake, in unincorporated county areas, have already been ordered to evacuate.
McKay said he has been reviewing advice from fire and public safety authorities on how to prepare for an evacuation from a fire. He recommended that homeowners call their insurance companies to gain some clarification on what is covered in their policies.
He added some other advice that many residents might not think of under the anxiety of an evacuation: leave your lights on so firefighters can see the home if they need to save it under a haze of smoke; shut off your gas; and “make sure your home is in the best condition when you leave.”
The SCU Complex and multiple other fires throughout the state and Central Coast region have stretched CalFire and local public safety resources to extreme limits. Palsgrove said MHPD officers are on 12-hour shifts, with half the department working days, and the other half nights.
“They are finishing up their door-to-door notifications today, then for the remaining period of time they will be providing security up there with hard road closures,” Palsgrove said.
An MHPD sergeant is stationed “24-7” at the SCU Complex main command center in Alameda County, Palsgrove added.