Authorities in the Northern California fire zone are warning about criminals taking advantage of the crisis, including one case in which officials said a firefighter was victimized.

Authorities on Saturday morning arrested five people on suspicion of looting, grand theft, burglary and conspiracy after they were stopped driving away from the Fall Creek Drive area, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office said.

The suspects allegedly took advantage of the CZU Lightning Complex fire, which has forced about 77,000 people from their homes in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties.

Someone also broke into the department vehicle of a firefighting commander while he was out battling the blaze, stole his wallet and drained his bank account, Mark Brunton, Cal Fire operations chief, said at a briefing Sunday.

“It’s saddening, it’s sickening,” Brunton said, “and we are doing everything we can to try to help the community and unfortunately these [things] happen.”

Meanwhile, officials were asking people to stay out of evacuation zones to avoid hazards including downed trees and wires, and to keep roads open for emergency vehicles.

Tourists are also being warned away. The Santa Cruz County Emergency Operations Center said it was requesting that visitors refrain from traveling there through Sept. 1 to keep overnight accommodations available for evacuees.


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