Residents have organised and attempted to fight the fires south of San Francisco, according to the Associated Press. They have stayed to fight the fires despite evacuation orders and urging by public officials to flee the area.
According to California firefighting agencies, it is illegal for people to go into evacuated areas. They oppose the residents' attempts because they fear their efforts will interfere with official firefighting efforts.
Ken Pimlott, a retired director of Cal Fire, said that residents attempting to stop fires or sneak back into evacuation areas isn't uncommon, but the level of organisation by residents during the current bout of wildfires is unprecedented in his experience.
"People are frustrated with the lack of resources available. People are always going to try to sneak back in, but it sounds like this is growing to a new level," Mr Pimlott said. "I haven't seen people re-engage to this scale, particularly with the level of organisation."
One of the groups, operating near Boulder Creek - a community near the Santa Cruz mountains - has been dubbed the "Boulder Creek Boys", and includes former volunteer firefighters. The group has been attempting to protect homes and fight fires, sometimes using only dirt and fire hoses.
Further north, civilian crews stayed in place to protect their homes. They feared that firefighters would have too few resources to make it to their small community, called Bonny Doon, and save their homes. A pair of brothers even brought their own firetruck in to help deal with the blazes.
Daniel Berlant, the Deput Director of Cal Fire, said he wasn't aware of the groups around Santa Cruz, but said efforts such as theirs tend to hinder official efforts more than they help.
"Our firefighters have equipment, communication and decades of experience, which allow us to battle dangerous fires," Mr Berlant said. "We absolutely stress that everyone needs to evacuate early. These efforts, while well-intentioned, absolutely slow us down."
He explained that firefighters sometimes have to compete for road space with civilians, and that civilians using water limits the water pressure available to official responders.
There have been reports of looting around Santa Cruz in the wake of the evacuations. The Santa Cruz Sheriff's Office has arrested give people on suspicion of burglary.
The sheriff's office urged everyone to stay away from the evacuation zone to prevent further looting.
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