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Updated Oct. 13, 11:00 a.m. PST: Massive California Wine-Country Fires Worsen, Sending More Residents Fleeing

Calistoga and Geyserville were evacuated as flames spread; dangerous winds are forecast for weekend; now at least 31 dead and eight wineries destroyed
Photo by: Peter DaSilva/Polaris
The tasting room at Mayacamas burned down, but the winery is standing.

Kim Marcus, MaryAnn Worobiec
Posted: October 12, 2017

For our most up-to-date coverage of this story, see "Northern California Vintners Assess Wildfire Damage," updated Oct. 20. For additional coverage, see our Oct. 17 and Oct. 11 updates, and "Damage Updates from Wineries."


Updated Oct. 13, 10:30 a.m. PST: One of Napa’s most historic names, Mayacamas, lost its wood-structure tasting room, but the old stone winery building on Mt. Veeder appears undamaged.

Cooler temperatures and low winds have allowed firefighters across Northern California to increase containment of the deadly wildfires that have devastated the state. More than 220,000 acres had burned as of Friday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (Cal Fire), up from 190,000 late Thursday. The Nuns and Partrick fires in southern Sonoma County and the Carneros appellation continued to grow. The flames continue to menace the town of Sonoma, including several wineries, such as Ravenswood, Bartholomew Park and Buena Vista.

UPDATED Oct. 13, 7:30 a.m. PST Cal Fire and county officials confirmed late Thursday that the fires have so far caused at least 31 deaths: 17 in Sonoma County, eight in Mendocino County, four in Yuba County and two in Napa County.

UPDATED Oct. 12, 2:00 p.m. PST Several fires continue to grow in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake and Solano Counties, and mandatory evacuation orders have been issued to several communities. The death toll has reached 26. Roy Estate in Napa Valley has been confirmed as destroyed.

UPDATED Oct. 12, 11 a.m. PST Backbone Vineyard & Winery in Redwood Valley has been destroyed. "Our winery burned to the ground along with all our wine made over the past five years," said owner Sattie Clark in a statement. Authorities report that nearly 7,000 people have been evacuated in both Mendocino and Lake Counties, where the Redwood Complex and Sulphur fires have destroyed 340 buildings and are threatening 800 more. In Mendocino, the Redwood and Potter fires had grown to 32,000 acres by Thursday morning.

Cooler temperatures and low winds Thursday night and Friday morning have allowed firefighters across Northern California to increase containment of the deadly wildfires that have devastated the state. The danger is far from over, however, as more than 220,000 acres had burned as of Friday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (Cal Fire), up from 190,000 late Thursday.

While the Tubbs fire in Sonoma and Napa and the Atlas fire in Napa and Lake Counties did not expand dramatically overnight, the Nuns and Partrick fires in southern Sonoma County and the Carneros appellation continued to grow.

The flames continue to menace the town of Sonoma, including several wineries. “Lots of resources being thrown in that direction, so I am cautiously optimistic that they will hold the line,” said Joel Peterson of Ravenswood. “Much depends on how much the fire crews can tamp this thing down before the next round of wind, heat and low humidity. We could be in for another series of ugly destructive days. Currently Ravenswood is fine. Bart Park and Buena Vista are the most at risk at the moment.”

One of Napa’s most historic names, Mayacamas, is still standing, but it did suffer a hit from the Nuns flames. A photographer found that the old stone winery building on Mt. Veeder appears undamaged, but the wooden building next door, used as a tasting room, has burned down.

As of Friday morning, 17 large fires burn statewide. And winds could pick up speed at any moment, officials caution. The death toll from the fires that started Oct. 8 and 9 has risen to 31: 17 in Sonoma County, eight in Mendocino County, four in Yuba County and two in Napa County.

The entire city of Calistoga and its 5,000 residents in northern Napa Valley were still under mandatory evacuation. There are fears that the Tubbs fire, burning on the southern slopes of the 4,400-foot Mt. St. Helena, could sweep downhill and threaten the city. At a press conference with state and local officials in Napa Thursday, Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning said that at present there was no fire activity within the city limits but warned against anyone traveling there. “If you are trying to visit Calistoga you are not welcome,” Canning said. “Please keep us in your thoughts.”

The Tubbs fire has slowed, but has burned more than 34,000 acres in total. Cal Fire reports that it is 10 percent contained. The biggest fire currently is the Atlas fire in the eastern hills of Napa County, which had topped 48,000 acres as of Friday morning but was now listed as 27 percent contained. Parts were spreading into neighboring Solano County, home to the Suisun Valley and Green Valley American Viticultural Areas.

Fire conditions did not significantly worsen over the past two nights in Napa County, and local and state officials, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, were striking notes of optimism about containing the blazes in a Thursday press conference in Napa. "Today’s a different day, and it’s a good day for us. Fire crews are making progress," said Belia Ramos, chairperson of the Napa County Board of Supervisors. Ramos said that fire crews were beginning to get containment on Tubbs and Atlas.

Authorities report that nearly 7,000 people have been evacuated in both Mendocino and Lake Counties, where the Redwood/Potter and Sulphur fires have destroyed 340 buildings and are threatening 800 more. In Mendocino, the Redwood/Potter fire had grown to 34,000 acres on Thursday and was only 10 percent contained as of Friday. Sulphur has burned 2,500 acres in Lake County, and is 55 percent contained.

Two wineries have been destroyed in Mendocino—Frey Vineyards and Backbone Vineyard & Winery—both in Redwood Valley. "Our winery burned to the ground along with all our wine made over the past five years," said owner Sattie Clark in a statement. She and her husband, Eric Kaster, started the winery when they purchased the former Cole Bailey winery and focused on Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. They also lost their vineyard, though Clark says, "We think our house was saved, so we are luckier than many."

Fire crews were keeping a close eye on the weather as they battled fires at Golden Vineyards on the edge of Redwood Valley. According to a statement released by the Mendocino WineGrowers, the fires are only impacting a small percentage of Mendocino's vineyards, with 1,100 acres of vines currently in the fire zone. In Redwood Valley that includes 38 vineyards, with five vineyard properties under threat in Potter Valley. But the extent of the damage is unknown at this time.

For more updates on how the region’s wineries are faring, visit "California Fires: Damage Updates from Wineries."

Michael Macor/San Francisco Chronicle/Polaris
One of thousands of firefighters in the area watches smoke rise from the Tubbs fire.

Hundreds of people were missing, more than 400 in Sonoma alone, and 4,400 reported to be in evacuation shelters, according to the Office of Emergency Services. Those who have not evacuated face dangerous air quality thanks to a thick blanket of smoke. The Environmental Protection Agency reported that the city of Napa registered a 167 on its air quality gauge Thursday. Good air quality is zero to 50.

At least eight wineries have been significantly or totally damaged—five in Napa, including Signorello Estate and White Rock Vineyards; Sonoma's Paradise Ridge Vineyards and Mendocino's Frey Vineyards and Backbone Vineyard & Winery. Another 11 in Napa, including Stags' Leap Winery, have reported to the Napa Valley Vintners that they have some damage to the winery, other building or vineyards. So far, 160 of the Vintners' 500 members have reported in. Sonoma and Mendocino are still tallying damage reports.

Roy Estate is the latest to be confirmed as destroyed by the Atlas fire. Shirley Roy founded Roy Estate with her late husband in 1999, and Helen Turley was the founding winemaker, but Philippe Melka took over winemaking reins in 2005. The brand is known for its Cabernet Sauvignon and Proprietary Blend, both made from estate-grown grapes on the 17-acre vineyard, south of the Stags Leap District.

"Roy Estate was completely devastated by the Atlas fire," said Kathryn Reynolds of Roy. "We lost the main house, the guest cottage and the barn. All completely rubble. The vineyards seem to have remained untouched thankfully. None of the Roy Estate staff was harmed and thankfully remain safe."

Another winery casualty in the Atlas fire is the small Patland Vineyards, founded by Henry and Olga Patland beginning with the 2007 vintage. They specialized in red wines made from their estate vineyard and nearby Stagecoach Vineyard.

Winemaker Jay Buoncristiani confirmed the news. "The Patlands’ estate, perched at 1,500 feet above Soda Canyon Road, was wiped out by the fierce Atlas fire early on Sunday night," Buoncristiani told Wine Spectator. "I feel so badly for their loss. They are like family to me, but they are handling it amazingly well, and feel like I do: As long as lives are safe, the rest is replaceable, and things could have been far worse. In fact, Michael Patland saved his neighbor’s life by waking him up and getting him out of his home, which was toasted within a short time after escaping."

As far as the Stagecoach Vineyard, no one can get close to assess the damage. Buoncristiani also can't get access to the Caves at Soda Canyon, where his wines are fermenting. "We have a lot in barrel already, but I also currently have at least seven fermentations that are running wild in the Caves, and I am so eager to get in there and check on their status and I’m prepared for the challenge to bring them home to dryness safely."

Resources continue to flood into the region from throughout California and neighboring states to battle the blazes. According to Cal Fire, 8,000 firefighters were on the lines by Wednesday, along with 550 fire engines and 73 helicopters and 30 air tankers dropping fire retardant. An additional 170 fire engines from out of state are on their way to the region

Where the fires go next and how quickly crews can bring them under control is largely due to one key factor: wind. Sunday night’s firestorm was stoked by gusting and bone-dry northerly winds of almost 70 mph and dry vegetation resulting from the previous five years of drought.

Red-flag fire warnings were up once again for the region Friday as the northerly winds were expected to return over the weekend. The concern is that large fires on the eastern and western ridges of Napa County and to the north could merge into one giant fire. Many roads were still closed in the region to allow fire crews access, including portions of the Silverado Trail and those in the Atlas Peak region of Calistoga, as well as Highway 12 in Sonoma Valley. That’s making it hard for vintners and residents to find out whether their buildings are still standing.

Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano says it could be a week or longer before residents are allowed back into evacuation areas. “Today’s conditions are what we are waiting for now,” Giordano said. “Evacuate to the south. If you can leave the county, even better.”

With additional reporting by Aaron Romano, Augustus Weed, Dana Nigro and Mitch Frank

Gae Perry Basch
Las Vegas, Nv —  October 12, 2017 1:27pm ET
Wine country in Northern California has always been heaven on earth for us. Jour hearts go out to all of the vintners who have dedicated their lives to winemaking, and everyone living in harms way. Las Vegas loves you, and many prayers are coming your way.

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