SANTA CRUZ—A woman died early Wednesday in a two-alarm fire that broke out in the former Sobering Center in Santa Cruz.

Around 2:30am 9-1-1 dispatchers received numerous calls about a fire spreading through the two-story Victorian wood structure that had been boarded up since the onset of the pandemic.

When the first fire crews arrived, they immediately called for a second alarm, drawing further emergency support from outlying agencies.

As firefighters began their attack several people staggered out of the smoking building into the cold night air. 

Santa Cruz Fire Battalion Chief Josh Coleman said firefighters found a woman down inside the building and hauled her to safety.

Fire radio traffic described a woman who died at the scene.  

Firefighters staged several attacks, including one on the ground floor where flames could be seen through several windows that had to be bashed out by frefighters. 

Coleman said the fire was strong enough at one point that firefighters had to back off and go into defensive mode. Firefighters were eventually able to work their way back indoors and upstairs where the flames had crept into the attic.

Meanwhile, another crew ran a 100-foot aerial ladder over the mountain of smoke for another vantage point.

Coleman said one firefighter was injured and was in stable condition as of 8am.

Santa Cruz Police closed off that section of Water Street, and portions of Ocean Street.

The building at 265 Water St. is owned by the Sheriff’s Office and stands directly in front of the County Jail. For years it served as a sobering center under Janus of Santa Cruz, first opening in 2015. It provided a safe place to sober up as an alternative to jail for individuals arrested for drunk in public offenses. Before discharge, clients could speak to a referral specialist and be guided to resources in the community based on their needs.

It was a 10-bed facility with separate spaces for men and women.

Firefighters had to pry off several sheets of plywood to gain access to the building. Officials from Pacific, Gas & Electric were called in to shut off power. American Medical Response staged several ambulances for more possible injuries. 

Sheriff’s deputies were aso out in numbers dealing with the incident.

Coleman said 44 firefighters were called to the incident. He deemed the building a “total loss.”

Coleman said it appeared the people in the building were illegally trespassing.

Around 4am one man approached police at the scene and told them he was inside the building when the fire started and that he had information about the fire.

As workers arrived between 7-8am at the Santa Cruz County Building and Courthouse across Water Street, they were greeted with a heavy layer of smoke that enveloped the entire building and surrounding grounds throughout the morning. Flames were still visible inside the Sobering Center past 9am and smoke continued to rise out of the building. A large portion of the roof had caved in.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.


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