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A California firefighter was robbed as he battled a blaze in Santa Cruz

CNN logo CNN 8/24/2020 By Alaa Elassar, CNN
A smoke plume from the LNU Lightning Complex fires billows over Healdsburg, California, on Thursday, August 20. © Noah Berger/AP A smoke plume from the LNU Lightning Complex fires billows over Healdsburg, California, on Thursday, August 20.

A California firefighter's wallet was stolen out of his work vehicle and his bank account was drained while he was battling a blaze, officials said. It was the latest robbery to occur amid fear and panic over wildfires in Santa Cruz.

"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," Chief Deputy Chris Clark with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office said during a press conference on Sunday.

Officials said they are still investigating who stole the firefighter's wallet. The incident follows a case of looting that occurred days prior.

Five people were arrested for targeting homes of residents evacuated due to wildfires in Santa Cruz County, the sheriff's department said Friday on Facebook.

The Santa Cruz Sheriff's Office received reports on Friday of looters in a neighborhood. Deputies responded to the scene and attempted to stop two vehicles. One stopped and the other attempted to flee, but wound up in a ditch.

Authorities arrested Jose Gandarilla, Susana Luna, Crystal Araujo, Sara Loretz and Crystle Parstch-Lucchesi on numerous charges, including looting, grand theft, conspiracy to commit a crime and burglary.

CNN was unable to reach the suspects for comment. It is unknown if any of them have attorneys.

"It takes a special person to wake up in the morning and say 'You know what, I'm going to go victimize and traumatize people who have already been through everything that this community has been through'," Sheriff Jim Hart said during a Sunday press conference.

"Generally the district attorney and myself have a lot of empathy for most people, but I have no empathy, I have no patience for somebody whose going to come into our community and steal from people who have been evacuated and victimized and traumatized."

Police are patrolling evacuated neighborhoods in Santa Cruz County, and will stop and arrest anyone that isn't with the police or fire departments, Hart said.

Thousands of firefighters are responding to hundreds of wildfires raging across California. The fires have scorched more than 1 million acres, and show few signs of letting up.

Authorities are worried about forecasts that say dry thunderstorms -- featuring lightning but little rain -- could spark even more fires and spread existing ones.

Lake, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma, and Yolo counties are among the hardest hit.

Authorities in at-risk and evacuated areas will continue to make welfare checks for safety and burglary suppression, officials said.

a group of people posing for the camera: Five people were arrested for looting. © Santa Cruz Sheriff's Office Five people were arrested for looting.
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