Winery Evacuated Due to Fire

Roads closed but vineyards remain unscathed by Lake County wildfire

by Jane Firstenfeld
Emergency crews continue to battle the 18,000-acre Rocky Fire, seen here from Hawk and Horse Vineyards in Lower Lake, Calif.
Lake County, Calif.—Although CalFire’s most recent dispatch this afternoon reports that the “Rocky Fire” has rampaged through 18,000 acres and is still only 5% contained, Lake County’s grape and wine industry so far appears to be largely untouched.

Authorities evacuated Six Sigma Winery of Lower Lake, Calif., after the blaze sparked July 29. Winemaker Matt Hughes told Wines & Vines that no one was at the winery when evacuation was ordered, but that some employees were back today, and he expected to return this weekend.



    As of 8 a.m. on Aug. 3, the Rocky Fire had grown to 60,000 acres and was 12% contained, resulting in the evacuation of 5,530 homes and 13,118 people. Nearly 3,000 fire personnel were battling on the blaze, with 72 fire crews, 285 fire engines, 57 dozers, 19 helicopters and four airtankers enlisted in the effort.

Hughes said the blaze had scorched the top corner of Six Sigma’s property but didn’t touch any vines. Five bulldozers came in and created a firebreak, he said. Thirty dozers joined nearly 1,000 fire personnel working to battle the blaze, according to CalFire, with 32 fire crews, 151 engines, eight airtankers and eight helicopters on hand.

The Lake County Sheriff’s Office ordered evacuation of the Jerusalem Valley area east and west of Soda Creek. Jerusalem Valley Road is closed to all traffic at Spruce Grove Road. Dry winds were driving the flames eastward, away from the winery. (Six Sigma is on the east side of Spruce Grove Road.) “We were blessed,” Hughes said.

Unless the wind changes, Six Sigma is preparing for its first sparkling wine crush next week. Hughes doesn’t expect any long-term effects to the vineyard or the crop, unless smoke lingers.

Napa County and its vineyards, most of which are still undergoing véraison, is situated between the Rocky Fire burning almost out of control to the north and the 87% contained Wragg Fire, which is smoldering to the southeast after burning 8,051 acres. Both fires have unleashed huge plumes of smoke.

On the western side of the Spruce Grove Road closure, Hawk and Horse Vineyards in Lower Lake remained in full operation, said co-owner Tracey Hawkins.

“Most of the vineyards are west of the fire, which is a good thing,” she said. “Wind and smoke seem to have been travelling eastward, away from wineries and vineyards, from the start.”

Community pulls together to pull through
Hawkins said that at the moment, the big story from Lake County is about community, and that all neighbors in the rural community are pulling together. She said she and others plan to help round up stray livestock on horseback after the fire.

“Owners of ranches are reporting that truck and trailer rigs are lining up near evacuation zones to help when needed for animal evacuation; people are offering emergency shelter for horses and livestock, as well as domestic animals, on properties away from the fire,” she said. “People are offering lodgings to displaced or evacuated individuals as well as their animals. All agree that CalFire has done a great job of fire containment and protecting developed areas.”

She added that even after the flames are gone, ranchers will have more work to do rounding up loose livestock and rebuilding damaged structures. If past fires are any guide, the area’s vineyards could suffer more animal predation because of the destruction of native habitat.

“We do expect to see an influx of wild animals onto our ranch,” Hawkins said. “This will include California black bear, bobcats, mountain lions, deer and all manner of birds and squirrels. …The Pope Valley fire from summer 2014, which burned around 3,000 acres, brought us several black bear and the like.”

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