About the CAL FIRE San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit


The San Mateo – Santa Cruz Unit includes the counties of Santa Cruz, San Mateo, and San Francisco. The Unit primarily operates in the State Responsibility Areas (SRA) of Santa Cruz and San Mateo County an area of approximately 894 square miles. CAL FIRE is the County Fire Department for both San Mateo County and Santa Cruz County. In addition to providing fire protection in the SRA, CAL FIRE contracts with the Coastside Fire Protection District in San Mateo County and Pajaro Valley Fire Protection District in Santa Cruz County.

San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties border the Pacific Ocean to the west; San Francisco County to the north; San Francisco Bay and Santa Clara County to the east; and the Pajaro River along San Benito and Monterey Counties to the south. The counties straddle the eastern and western flanks of the Santa Cruz Mountains (part of the Coast Range) which runs in a general northwest to southeast direction. The ridgeline travels about 65 miles from just south of San Bruno Mountain in San Mateo County to Mount Madonna in Santa Cruz County.

Approximately one million residents make up the combined population of San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties. Additionally, numerous other non-residents frequently visit the counties for work, recreation and tourism. Recreational use of public lands is a year round activity in great demand by people from the local communities, the surrounding metropolitan Bay Area, and points beyond. There are approximately 61 miles of beaches and an additional 40+ thousand acres of parks available to the public.
Santa Cruz County has an estimated population of 250,000 of which the highest population densities occur in the Cities of Santa Cruz and Watsonville. San Mateo County has much higher population densities than Santa Cruz, with many of the county’s 700,000 residents dwelling in the more urban northeastern portion of the county. The Cities of Daly City, San Mateo, Redwood City, South San Francisco and San Bruno make up the highest population centers. With the exception of Half Moon Bay, El Granada, Princeton, Moss Beach, Montara and Pacifica, coastal San Mateo County is largely undeveloped. Major landowners in the area include local and state government, private timberland, water districts and smaller private ownerships.

Due to local topography, fuels (forest, chaparral, grasslands) and certain weather conditions, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties are prone to periodic large wildfire events. Each year, State, local, and volunteer departments throughout the region respond to numerous wildfires. The vast majority of these are held to less than one acre. The reasons for this include, but are not limited to: early identification and reporting, large fire suppression response (both local and state agencies), generally good access to fire areas, favorable fuels, favorable fire weather, and air support. Effective fire suppression over the past 100 years has led to uncharacteristically high fuel loads. When ignitions occur during unfavorable weather and/or in areas with poor access, fires can rapidly increase to an unmanageable size prior to fire resources arrival. In 2008 Santa Cruz County experienced three large wildfires resulting in approximately 5,400 acres burned and numerous homes destroyed. In 2009, Santa Cruz County experienced two large wildfires resulting in approximately 8,500 acres damaging and destroying numerous homes and structures.

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