• The firefighter’s wallet was stolen from his unoccupied vehicle
  • Looters were targeting the empty homes of residents who were evacuated due to wildfires
  • Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s deputies have made at least eight arrests as of Sunday in connection to the looting

A California firefighter’s wallet was stolen out of his service vehicle and his bank account drained as he worked to contain a wildfire in Santa Cruz. This marked the latest instance of illegal activity following a spate of looting reported across the area.

Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart said during a press conference Sunday the firefighter’s marked vehicle was burglarized. A spokeswoman for the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s department said the incident happened overnight between Friday and Saturday at the Bonny Doon Fire Department.

During the press conference, Chief Deputy Chris Clark with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office said, "It's absolutely disgusting behavior, I can't, frankly, I can't believe that somebody would actually have the nerve to break into a firefighter's vehicle or enter their vehicle to steal something from them when they're there to protect the community. Honestly it blows me away."

Battalion Chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), Mark Brunton, called the incident "sickening." He said the firefighter’s bank account was “drained” after his wallet was stolen from his unoccupied vehicle. "That's the extent these people have gone."

Tens and thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes at the onset of the ongoing wildfires in California, and, according to the police, the looters are taking advantage of the empty houses. Officials with the sheriff’s department said they were still investigating who stole the firefighter’s wallet.

The sheriff’s department mentioned in a Facebook post Friday they have arrested five persons for attempting to loot vacated homes of residents in the area. The deputies responded to reports about looters in the Fall Creek Drive area and the miscreants attempted to flee in two cars. One of the cars was stopped by the deputies while the other ended up in a ditch, according to the statement.

“These five decided to victimize several of our community members who are already hurting,” the sheriff’s office said in the post.

Hart said during the press conference the department made three additional arrests as of Sunday in connection to the looting. He said some of the looters were from outside the area, while others were neighbors. Looters had made off with personal possessions, guns and, during one occasion, even tried to take an outdoor heating system.

Hart added police are patrolling the evacuated neighborhoods in Santa Cruz County and will detain anyone who isn’t a part of the police or fire departments.

Fire officials are responding in huge numbers to the wildfires raging across California. The fires have burned over 1 million acres so far and Lake, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma, and Yolo counties are the hardest hit.

CZU Lightning Complex wildfire is feared to pose a greater threat to Santa Cruz County after already having burnt 67,000 acres, of which 5% is contained, according to USA Today.

California Wildfires
Image: Natural-color image of the thick smoke coming from the California wildfires, taken by NASA' Terra satellite on Aug. 19, 2020. Terra-MODIS/NASA Earth Observatory