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California Wildfires Continue to Rage for Third Straight Day

This article was published on Wednesday, October 11, 2017.

Wildfires continue to rage across Northern California, having burned more than 170,000 acres and 3,500 structures thus far, with those numbers continuing to climb. At least 21 people are known to have perished in the fires, over than 20,000 have been evacuated and hundreds more are missing.

Tuesday morning brought a small reprieve, as winds died down and temperatures cooled, but as evening approached, increased gusts continued to spread the flames and resulted in new evacuations for Geyserville and Sonoma Valley. Napa County officials conducted door-to door-evacuations Tuesday night in portions of Calistoga, and alerted the remainder of the city’s residents to prepare for possible evacuation.

While most of the state’s 22 fires remain uncontained, Cal Fire reported some progress. “There’s been a little bit of containment for the fires in Sonoma and Napa, but it’s just a percent or two,” said spokesperson Heather Williams. “Unfortunately, the wind is picking up and the weather isn’t going to be cooperating throughout today and tomorrow.”

Wineries in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties have suffered significant damage in the fires, ranging from scorched vineyards to total destruction. Confirmed losses include Paradise Ridge in Santa Rosa, Frey Vineyards and Oster Wine Cellars in Mendocino County, and Signorello Estate in Napa. Sonoma’s Gundlach Bundschu winery is still standing despite earlier reports to the contrary, but the family home was lost. Napa’s Stags’ Leap Winery escaped major damage, and the status of Chateau St. Jean in Kenwood is unconfirmed, according to a Treasury Wine Estates representative.

“As of yesterday five of our members reported that they suffered total or very significant losses,” said Napa Valley Vintners Communications Director Patsy McGaughy. “Nine others had relatively significant damage to their wineries, outbuildings or surrounding vineyards.” The association is not releasing the names of the affected wineries at this time.

As the fire spreads, losses are expected to grow.

“Napa is pretty much surrounded by fire on all sides,” said Alison Crowe, partner and director of winemaking at Plata Wine Partners in Napa. “Unfortunately it’s a lot of wait and see.” Two of Plata’s vineyards in Carneros were singed around the edges, and the company’s Suscol Mountain vineyard in southeast Napa is under threat by the Atlas Fire.

“There are numerous wineries without power and where people have been evacuated,” Crowe said. “The Nuns fire came over from Glen Ellen last night and crested the hill at Mt. Veeder, so we’re worried about embers being thrown with the shifting winds.”

Most of the North Coast’s grape harvest was completed before fires began on Sunday. “The grapes are 90% in, so that’s good news,” confirmed McGaughy of Napa Valley Vintners. Some Cabernet Sauvignon remains on the vines, but due to the variety’s thick skin and advanced stage of ripeness, the possibility of smoke taint is relatively low.

Changing conditions are keeping vintners on their toes as they scramble to make alternative plans for their fruit. “All of the decisions that one normally makes at harvest time are being thrown for a big loop by all of the uncertainty,” Crowe said. “Wineries are making Plans B, C and D.”

Michael Honig, president and CEO of Honig Vineyard & Winery in Rutherford, put the situation into perspective at a Napa press conference Tuesday afternoon. “We have always been a strong community,” he said. “We’ve struggled through drought, pestilence, earthquakes—even Prohibition. We suffered and we survived, so this is a hiccup in the context of a generational business.”

President Trump pledged to provide federal aid for victims of California’s wildfires, and House Republicans released a bill late Tuesday night that would provide $36.5 billion in emergency funding for hurricane and wildfire relief.