Fire Narrowly Misses Ojai Wineries

Santa Barbara and Ventura county wineries use social media to communicate as Thomas Fire explodes

by Jaime Lewis
wine vineyard santa barbara ventura ojai wildfire thomas fire
Topa Mountain Winery posted this photo with an update that the winery and owner Larry Guerra’s home in Upper Ojai is still standing, though the Thomas Fire grew to more than 235,000 acres over the weekend.

Ojai, Calif—Despite being named one of the five largest wildfires in California history, the Thomas Fire inflicted little damage to vineyards and wineries in the California Central Coast city of Ojai. However, unpredictable winds and warm, dry conditions make future damage a distinct possibility. Currently, the blaze rages over 230,500 acres across Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, with just 15% containment as of 7:45 a.m. today.

“As you have probably heard by now, the Upper Ojai Valley was severely impacted by the Thomas Fire that started just down Highway 150 from our property,” read a message posted Dec. 9 on the Boccali Vineyards & Winery Facebook page. “The vineyard suffered some minor damage, however, we were able to save the main winery buildings and the family home. For this we are extremely grateful.” A follow-up message shared a crowdfunding website to support one of the winery’s employees, whose home was lost to the flames.

On Dec. 7, Adam Tolmach of The Ojai Vineyard shared on Facebook: “I am very happy to report that all the staff is safe, and there is apparently no damage to our winery. We have not been let into our property yet, but reports are good.” He continued with a word about the tasting room, writing: “Due to the unpredictability of the fires and still potentially dangerous situation, the tasting room is closed. We aim to resume normal business hours as soon as possible.”

Similarly, on Dec. 8 the Topa Mountain Winery shared on its Instagram page that the winery in upper Ojai remained standing. “Unfortunately, many of our neighbors have not been so lucky...” the message read.

The Thomas Fire began Dec. 4 near the inland city of Santa Paula and has grown to destroy 794 structures, with 187 structures damaged and some 18,000 threatened. Some outlets report as many as 200,000 evacuees as a result of multiple mandatory evacuation zones including Ojai, Ventura/Santa Paula, the Casitas Pass and Rose Valley. According to CALFire, more than 5,000 fire service personnel are currently at work attempting to contain the blaze.

“First and foremost, we want to thank the fire department teams that are tirelessly helping to protect our community,” read a Dec. 9 message on the Facebook page for Casa Barranca Organic Winery. “Without these angels, we would not be able to send you this email and give you a positive update.”

The message went on to share that a member of the Casa Barranca team had sprayed fire retardant on the estate and winery, keeping company with the fire crew throughout the night.

“We are happy to report that the estate, winery and tasting room have made it through this horrific event. All of our staff and their families are safe, and as of now, no one has lost their home. Unfortunately, it is not over yet. Due to the unpredictability of the fires, and the dangers involved, our Tasting Room will be closed until further notice; our goal is to resume normal business hours as soon as possible.”

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