California wildfires, which have so far torched more than a million acres of land, including parts of the state’s historic redwood forest, have become a target for looters, and at least one firefighter had his bank account “drained” as he risked his life battling the historic blaze.
“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,” USA Today reported Monday. “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.”
The looters apparently entered the firefighter’s truck as he and his crew were fighting to control the Santa Cruz blaze sometime between Friday evening and Saturday morning. In a matter of hours, they’d taken his possessions and allegedly drained his bank account using a debit card, per the Santa Cruz sheriff’s office.
“That’s the extent these people have gone,” California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Battalion Chief Mark Brunton said at a press conference. “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.”
The Santa Cruz sheriff’s office did not comment extensively on the case except to say that an investigation had been opened, but the Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart did tell reporters that 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,” he continued. “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.”
“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.
Santa Cruz, along with other California law enforcement agencies, has beefed up in recent days to handle the spike in looting. Santa Cruz has arrested eight people so far for taking advantage of the evacuation order by ransacking abandoned residences.
CNN reports that the “hundreds” of California wildfires raging in Lake, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma, and Yolo counties, were started by lightening, and a “total of 1.1 million [acres] have burned in the state.” An estimated 13,000 firefighters are involved in containing the flames, some of whom are working 24 hour shifts. And although 2019 was a record year for California wildfires, the 2020 blazes have already claimed more land and lives than in all of last year.