Napa and Sonoma Contend with Wildfires as Harvest Begins

Napa wildfires
A resident hoses down a burning bicycle and tree as flames from the Hennessey approach a property in the Spanish Flat area of Napa, California on August 18, 2020. Credit: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

Two massive and growing fires are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties, threatening people, animals, homes and wineries, just as harvest begins.

The first to force road closures and evacuations was dubbed the Hennessey Fire due to its proximity to Lake Hennessey to the east of St. Helena. The treacherous area includes the Pritchard Hill, Chiles Valley and Pope Valley wine areas in Napa Valley, and its blaze was sparked by a rare lightning storm that occurred Sunday and Monday, setting off intensely dry vegetation.

Wineries and vineyards within its boundaries include Foley Johnson Winery, Geodesy’s Sage Ridge Vineyard, the 130-year-old Nichelini Winery and Brown Estate. Pritchard Hill is home to Chappellet, Colgin, Brand Napa Valley, Ovid and David Arthur.

“The fire is burning at Sage Ridge Vineyard,” Megan Baccitich, winemaker, Geodesy, confirmed on Monday. “I have a great deal of gratitude for Geodesy’s vineyard foreman, Nazario Guzman, who made the call to report the fire, ensured that everyone was safely evacuated and facilitated Cal Fire’s setup onsite. There is challenging terrain in this area and these are uncertain times, as the fire is burning uncontained and we do not have boots on the ground to verify information received hearsay.”

As of Wednesday, Baccitich and her team were still unable to access the property.

With ongoing evacuations and fire activity, it is difficult to confirm the extent of the damage. So far, wineries appear to remain standing and the fire is moving in an increasingly eastern direction over the county line to Solano County, Interstate 80 and Vacaville, a city of more than 100,000 people.

Hennessey is now considered part of the LNU Lightning Complex, a collection of fires that, at last count, blaze across 46,225 acres and displace 5,700 people, according to The Santa Rosa Press Democrat. On Tuesday, evacuations were ordered for much of Atlas Peak, Soda Canyon and the area around the Silverado Country Club. These areas were also greatly impacted in the fires of 2017.

Massive Northern California Wildfires Continue to Devastate

New evacuation warnings were issued Wednesday morning for parts of Howell Mountain, including Ink Grade and Howell Mountain roads. Up-to-date evacuation specifics can be found here.

On Tuesday, the Wallbridge Fire (previously called the 13-4) started in Sonoma County. As a result, authorities evacuated the Austin Creek State Recreation Area near Armstrong Woods State Natural Reserve and its old-growth redwoods, and the Russian River Valley town of Guerneville. Areas north of Guerneville all the way to Skaggs Springs Road were also evacuated, including areas west of Westside Road, West Dry Creek Road and Dry Creek Road, which lie west of Healdsburg.

As of Wednesday morning, it had burned 1,500 acres. A smaller fire called Meyers also rages north of Jenner between Meyers Grade Road and the ocean, just below the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA, home to Fort Ross Winery, Flowers, Hirsch and others.

Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers, has had her phone ringing since 5:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, with growers looking to access help getting N-95 masks or who otherwise have questions about harvest.

“Harvest really went into full swing yesterday morning driven by the same heat that is causing the fire issues,” she says. “Where it was safe, growers have been harvesting this morning, being mindful of smoke.”

Published on August 19, 2020
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