.Wildfire Season Kicks Off in Wine Country

Wildfire season in the wine country kicked off with a bang this week — and fortunately, with no major human or home collateral — in the eastern hills of the Napa Valley. The “Crystal Fire” reportedly broke out Wednesday at the end of Crystal Springs Road between St. Helena and Calistoga, near the Bell Canyon Reservoir, smack dab in the burn scar of the massive Glass Fire that ravaged the area in 2020. This one ate through 60 acres of vegetation, sent four firefighters to the hospital (they’re all OK now) and destroyed one “outbuilding” before 160-plus responders from across the region could bring it under control. “Though fueled by high heat, the Crystal Fire lacked the extreme winds of catastrophic wildfires in the past and was 50% contained within hours,” the Press Democrat reported. As of Friday morning, it was 95% contained. Footage posted by Cal Fire showed multiple homes, estates and wineries they saved from the fire. Firefighters shot one video from the veranda of a particularly lavish estate in the hills, showing the fire creeping right up to the doorstep. Mike Wink, the Cal Fire commander overseeing the Crystal Fire, said in an video update yesterday: “We have no primary residences that were damaged or destroyed on this incident. They all had their defensible space. First responders were able to get there. We do have one outbuilding that was not a habitable structure that was destroyed. The road is open to residences. Those folks are back in there. We’re working with everybody.” Interestingly, the extravagant “Vida Valiente” winery project that Napa County government officials just shot down earlier this spring was proposed along Crystal Springs Road, right near the burn area — and the reason officials nixed it was they “couldn’t support having a winery with visitors along a narrow, subpar road with blind spots in a wildfire-prone area,” according to the Napa Valley Register. Anyway, moving on: While the Crystal Fire was blazing yesterday, another, smaller fire broke out in a much more rural area about 30 miles southeast on Highway 128, next to the Lake Berryessa reservoir. It only grew to about three acres before firefighters say they nipped it in the bud. (I’ve reached out to the Napa Valley Grapegrowers association to see if there’s any concern about smoke taint affecting the wine grapes this week — but if anyone else out there has any insights, feel free to hit me up.) Like the Press Democrat noted, we were lucky that the winds weren’t too strong this week. However, it also seems clear that our myriad local fire agencies are way more prepared than they were a few summers ago. They’ve got more knowledge, more learnings, more funding, more equipment, more tech, more cross-communication with other agencies, more hands on deck. It’s heartening! That said, the resounding message right now from the head honchos at all these agencies is to be prepared for the next Big One (or Little One) at any moment. The No. 1 thing they want us all to do is clear out any flammable plants or other debris from around our homes — aka, create defensible space. Just yesterday, the Santa Rosa Fire Department officially declared the start of the 2024 wildfire season as next Monday, June 10. (Guess Napa got a head start!) “Significant rainfall this year has led to substantial growth of seasonal grasses and vegetation,” department leaders said. “Following the recent warm, dry weather and increased fire activity, the declaration is necessary to help ensure the community is better prepared for this wildfire season. Many residents have taken proactive measures this season, including the abatement of dry seasonal grasses and other vegetation management measures. Regrowth is likely, given the rainfall this year, so we advise residents to address any regrowth that will likely create a fire hazard later this season.” Let’s get on that. (Source: City of Santa Rosa & Cal Fire & Cal Fire via YouTube & Press Democrat & Press Democrat & Napa Valley Register & CBS News)


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