Valley Fire Devastates Lake County

Wineries and vineyards among casualties of California blaze

by Paul Franson
Cal Fire reported the Valley Fire as 67,000 acres and 15% containment as of Tuesday morning.
Middletown, Calif.—Less than two months after the massive Rocky Fire burned 70,00 acres in California’s Lake County, located just north of Napa County, the even more devastating Valley Fire has burned 67,000 acres, destroyed 585 homes and forced as many as 13,000 people to evacuate many small towns.

One civilian has died in the fire so far, and four firefighters are reported injured.

The blaze was only 15% contained as of 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, when more than 9,000 homes and 150 commercial structures remained threatened.

Wine industry toll
The Valley Fire also has burned at least some wineries and parts of vineyards, including Shed Horn Cellars' winery building in Middletown and the home of its owners, Michael and Adawn Wood. The Woods released the following statement through the Lake County Winegrape Commission: “We are saddened about the loss of our beautiful county and our many friends that have lost their homes. We are blessed with the outpouring of kindness and thoughts of our personal friends and friends in the industry. We do have inventory in the warehouse to keep our orders filled and our tasting room stocked.”

Denise Roach, director of marketing for Foley Family Estates, reports that its Langtry Winery in Guenoc Valley near Middletown is back up and running—powered by a generator after losing power. “It’s likely that we won’t be able to harvest the remaining grapes due to smoke damage, but our winemaker is doing some lab work to confirm. The good news is that it appears the actual damage to vineyards may not be as bad as we initially thought. There are areas of green once you get past the most outer vines.”

She added that they lost one of the homes on the property, but the historic Lillie Langtry home was saved. More importantly, Roach said, “All employees are all safe and accounted for.”

Andy Beckstoffer of Beckstoffer Vineyards, which owns 1,300 acres in the Red Hills of Lake County near the fire, reports that harvest has been delayed since roads are closed. “We’ve had no fire damage. And no employees’ homes have been destroyed or personnel hurt.”

“It’s a far different situation from the fire of 2008. It’s later in the season, and the smoke is dissipating quickly.”

Thanks to the early harvest, most grapes near the fire have been picked. The fire also grew very fast, so that smoke may be not be present long enough to taint the grapes.

Clay Shannon, who owns large Vigilance Vineyards south of Clear Lake, Calif., said the fire is about 2 miles south of his property, but he doesn’t expect it to come that far. “Everything is OK except that it’s very smoky. Unfortunately, we can’t get there, and we have a pick scheduled.”

He added that a few raindrops had fallen, and it is cooler than it had been, which should help emergency crews working to control the blaze.

Unfortunately, three of Shannon’s office personnel have lost their homes.

Shannon had planned to crush grapes at Langtry Estates, but he can’t get there.

Six Sigma Winery, which was evacuated during the Rocky Fire, is closed once again.

Natalie Hoch Henderson, senior manager of corporate communications for E. & J. Gallo, sent an update to Wines & Vines, which read: "We have a number of employees that have been affected by the Valley Fire. We are thankful to report that these employees are safe along with their families.

"With regard to our vineyards, the Valley Fire is still very active, which has prevented us from assessing the extent of the damage to our property. It does appear that our Snows Lake Vineyard has suffered damage and the fire is still burning along the vineyard’s southern boundary. We have suspended all harvest activities in the area. Our other vineyards in the region appear to be OK at this time but remain at risk."

Origins of the fire
The Valley Fire started near the small resort town of Cobb, Calif., though the cause is not yet known. It moved southeasterly at a furious pace due to the heavy winds and dry conditions after four years of drought.

Though the small downtown was mostly unaffected, many homes in the town of Middletown burned to the ground, and the fire has damaged water-distribution facilities and a massive complex of geothermal power plants known as The Geysers.

It also destroyed 1885 Hoberg’s Resort, which was being restored, as well as the popular clothing-optional resort Harbin Springs.

Mandatory evacuations were called in many areas—even in Napa and Sonoma Counties—and many major roads were closed.

Fighting the fire are 2,362 fire personnel, 258 fire engines, 54 fire crews, four air tankers, eight helicopters and 31 dozers.

In Napa County south of Lake County, the Valley Fire has slowed its progress above Aetna Springs in Pope Valley. Plans are in place to try to build a perimeter to deter forward spread there.

Due to the erratic nature of this fire and the weather, the mandatory evacuation remains in place for Summit Lake Drive, Ink Grade Road and Howell Mountain Road from White Cottage Road north down into Pope Valley.

Author Jim Conaway spent last night on Howell Mountain in Napa County helping owner Randy Dunn of Dunn Vineyards get ready for the arrival of the Valley fire. “We got a 1940s fire engine running and full of water.”

Conaway said that a sheriff’s officer came and told them to leave, but Dunn refused, so Conaway stayed on. “Then they said that the National Guard was coming, but we haven’t seen them.” He reported that the fire is a long way off.

In other fire news, Cal Fire says 135 homes and 83 other structures have been destroyed in the Butte Fire, which is burning in Amador and Calaveras counties. As of Sunday evening, the blaze stands at 65,300 acres and is 25% contained.

Currently no comments posted for this article.