The CZU Lightning Complex fires swept through Cal Poly’s Swanton Pacific Ranch on Aug. 19 and 20, destroying much of the ranch and its structures. Access to the ranch is still restricted due to ongoing spot fires, downed power lines, and sink holes and requires Cal Fire escort. A full assessment of the damage will take weeks, perhaps even months, to fully identify.
What we do know is that important structures, including the Al Smith House, Seaside School House, Red House, Archibald House, Staub House and yurts, Cal Barn, Little Creek House, Car Barn, rail cars, Roundhouse and Car Shop have all been destroyed. The Green House, Long Barn, Bunk House, Railroad Machine Shop, Train Station, full-size cabooses and picnic grounds appear undamaged at this time. While the locomotives did burn, we will evaluate at a later date whether they can be restored.
All staff and students were able to evacuate safely. We are grateful that no one was injured and that all livestock were safely transported from the ranch.
While much is still unknown, we do know that the Cal Poly community is resilient. Structures were destroyed and programs halted, but the heart of what we do every day remains strong. When alumnus Al Smith (Crop Science, ‘44, Agricultural Education, ‘56), credited founder of Orchard Supply Hardware, donated the Swanton Pacific Ranch to Cal Poly in 1993, he did so with one simple request: that it be preserved as a working ranch and living laboratory dedicated to Learn by Doing educational opportunities and that the remaining large redwoods be left untouched. Today, Swanton Pacific Ranch is a model for the practice of informed land stewardship and sustainability. We stand by that commitment.
Our thoughts go out to all of those who suffered losses in this fire and the many other fires that continue to ravage California. We will work closely with both our Cal Poly family and our partners in the surrounding Santa Cruz community to rise up, rebuild and grow from the ashes. For now, we are focused on the immediate needs of those Swanton staff, faculty and students impacted by the fire.
You can support immediate relief efforts and future growth by donating to the Swanton Pacific Ranch Recovery Fund.
Here are more before and after photos: