Firefighters are working to contain the flames currently scorching Moraga Vineyards, a 16-acre plot planted in 1978 and now owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch in Bel Air, California. A portion of the vineyard and at least one structure have so far burned since flames began encroaching on the property Wednesday afternoon, according to reports.
The Skirball Fire, which erupted along the 405 freeway in West Los Angeles, had scorched hundreds of acres in the posh area in the hills above UCLA. As night fell, flames continued to light up the skies over Murdoch’s Moraga Estate and its $30 million mansion, working winery, underground caves and other structures. Murdoch, the owner of the Fox networks, The Wall Street Journal, 20th Century Fox and many other properties here and abroad, was monitoring the situation from afar.
“The situation at Moraga Bel Air is very fluid at the moment,” said Murdoch in a statement. “The property was evacuated but based on what we are seeing on TV there may be damage to some buildings in the upper vineyard area.
“We believe the winery and house are still intact,” the statement continued. “We are monitoring the situation as closely as we can and are grateful to the efforts of all the first responders. Some of our neighbors have suffered very heavy loses, and our thoughts and prayers are with them at this difficult time.”
Moraga’s winemaker Scott Rich was staying at a nearby home on Wednesday morning and planning to check on the latest vintage when he was woken by the sound of a low-flying airplane. Rich had just recovered from the devastating Sonoma fires, which forced him to evacuate his home in Glen Ellen for a week.
“I looked out the window at 6:15 or so, and I saw that familiar orange glow,” said Rich. “That reminded me of what we experienced a couple months ago, so I knew immediately what it was, but I had no idea how big or where it was.” When he saw the news, Rich recognized the area, heard that it was already being evacuated, and called the vineyard manager to tell him that no one was going to be working.
He hasn’t been able to access the property to assess its current state, but had been given unconfirmed reports that the structure fires may have been a couple of storage units near the top of the property. “They did a helicopter drop on top of it, and that really took the flames down,” said Rich, who believes that the vines may have helped stop the spread of the flames to neighboring homes and down the canyon, where the stone winery sits.
“There’s a huge watershed full of native vegetation, and from the helicopter view, it’s just ash,” he said. “But that stopped at the edge of the vineyard.” As seen in Napa and Sonoma, vineyards often act as firebreaks.
“That’s all I know at this point,” he said. “I don’t know what we’ve lost and what we haven’t lost.”
Meanwhile, the Thomas Fire continues to rage in Ventura County, approaching the border of Santa Barbara County along Highway 101 and threatening the Ojai Valley as well. There are some small vineyards in this area, most notably the Oak View vineyard and winery of Manfred Krankl’s Sine Qua Non, one of the most coveted cult brands in the world.