California Wine Country Under Threat from Six Uncontained Wildfires

Napa wildfire (Justin Sullivan / Getty)
Justin Sullivan / Getty

California fire authorities report that several wineries have been destroyed by fire, as none of the six major wildfires that have already burned 69,500 acres in the Central Coast wine country are under containment.

The Sonoma West Times reported that at midday there were a dozen uncontained fires to the north, south, and east of Healdsburg, the fabled capital of California’s wine country. With skies darkened in the surrounding quad-county area as choking ash rains down across the region, ten people have died; 20,000 people have been evacuated; and 1,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed. All telephone and Internet service is down, but police and fire have been able to maintain cellular service to most of the region so far.

CalFire’s latest update is tracking 25 major fires stretching from the Lion Fire near Visalia to the Salmon-August Complex – Island Fire near the Oregon border. But the most dangerous of what is being referred to as a statewide firestorm are the five huge uncontained blazes along the Central Coast, including:

  1. Tubbs Fire: Napa County off Highway 128 and Bennett Ln, Calistoga – 25,000 acres;
  2. Nuns Fire: Sonoma County off Highway 12, north of Glen Ellen – 5,000 acres;
  3. Patrick Fire: Napa County off Patrick Road and west of Napa – 3,000 acres;
  4. #37 Fire: Sonoma County fire at Highway 37 and Lakeville Hwy – 1,500 acres;
  5. Atlas Fire: Napa County off Altas Peak Road and south of Lake Berryessa – 25,000 acres. Advisory evacuations have been issued for Soscol Creek to North Kelly; and
  6. Redwood Complex Fire (merged Redwood Fire and Potter Fire): Mendocino County north of Highway 20 and west of the Mendocino National Forest – 10,000 acres. (Mandatory evacuations are in place for areas of Potter Valley, the Community of Redwood Valley and Golden Rule. Shelter centers have been opened at Ukiah High School and Willits City Hall. The large animal evacuation center is at Ukiah Fair Grounds.)

The San Jose Mercury Newscount of wineries that have burned down include Santa Rosa’s Paradise Ridge Winery; Sonoma’s Nicholson Ranch; Kenwood’s Chateau St. Jean; Frey Vineyards in Mendocino County’s Redwood Valley; and Napa’s William Hill Estate Winery.

California’s horrific fires are the byproduct of the October 2016 to September 2017 “rain year” that featured three extremely wet months from December through February. These bombarded the state with between 10 and 20 inches of rain. (The 27.07 inches of precipitation in the last rain year ranks second only to the 2010-11 record of 32 inches.)

After five years of California drought, the soil’s extraordinarily high moisture content from winter rains kicked off a massive spring bloom of scrub brush, grasses, and wild flowers, all of which provided fuel for the fires.

The 2017 grape harvest was progressing on schedule until a week-long September heat wave that caused the sugar level in grapes to spike as the fruit ripened quickly. Temperatures cooled by the end of the month, and most of the grapes were harvested, but the ultra-hot spell created just the right conditions for wine country fires.

This article has been updated to refer to the death toll of ten as of Monday evening.


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