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  • Elaine Chukan Brown
Written by
  • Elaine Chukan Brown
4 Oct 2018

As part of our Throwback Thursday series we are republishing this eye-witness report and highlight the ongoing need to help those whose lives were devastated by the fires a year ago. 

4 October 2018 We are just coming up to the anniversary of the worst fires ever known in Northern California wine country. They have already been followed by several other severe wildfires in the state, some of them in areas where wine is made and/or grown. But in Napa and Sonoma there are still thousands of people without proper homes or jobs as a direct result of the devastation. Elaine points out that the worst-affected were the vineyard worker communities who can be directly helped via Sonoma Grape Growers and the Napa Community Foundation.

Wine professional and Santa Rosa resident Lisa Mattson, featured in Alder's article Long road ahead for wine country last November, points out that Sonoma Family Meal, the charity created by food writer Heather Irwin last October to feed first responders and victims, is continuing to feed 80 families every week who are still struggling to recover from the disaster. 'Some people are living in trailers or in their cars on the streets of Santa Rosa', she reports, adding, 'Others live out of campers on their burned lots and cook meals on a portable cooktop.' She has brought out a new edition of her book The Exes in my Glass – a dating memoir and 100% of the funds raised by selling it will go to wildfire victims. Like so many disasters that hit the headlines temporarily, this one is not yet resolved by any means.

18 July 2018 See Elaine's update on The reality of the 2017 California fires today.

2 November 2017 See the California tasting we are organising at 67 Pall Mall in London to raise funds for victims of these terrible fires.

16 October 2017 See Alder's update, Devastation continues in Napa and Sonoma.

10 October 2017, updated 14 October 2017 Jancis wrote Elaine was such a trooper to send this report. She has just sent this message: 'We had to evacuate. Got daughter out earlier today. Stayed to help neighbour and animal rescue near our house evacuate. En route now to where we will stay. Exhausted but we are safe. Super grateful.' 

Signorello in Napa and Paradise Ridge in Santa Rosa, Sonoma, wineries are reported razed to the ground. Many vineyards singed. Alder reported that 10 people [at least 34 by 14 October with more than 100 people missing] lost their lives in the conflagration and reports, 'The fires are only single-digit percentages contained. The devastation is far from over.' He will contribute a report on the effects of the fires to be published early next week. 

9 October 2017 Elaine wrote Residents of San Francisco and the East Bay have just woken up this morning to a distinctly smoky atmosphere thanks to the collective impact of overnight fires that broke out throughout the North Coast. 

Governor Brown has declared a State of Emergency.

Over 60 wildfires were ignited throughout Napa and Sonoma counties last night. Most were started by high winds taking down trees and sparking above-ground power lines. Emergency responses were forced to focus on evacuations rather than containment as the unusually dry conditions combined with wind led to fires spreading quickly.

In Napa Valley, one of the biggest fires in Atlas Peak quickly spread to several hundred acres, still threatens hundreds of homes and forced a mass evacuation along the Silverado Trail between Oakville and Yountville. The Silverado Resort was evacuated as a result. Wineries Stag's Leap, Darioush, Chimney Rock, Shafer, Pine Ridge, and Silverado, among others, are all within the path of the Atlas Peak fire. In Coombsville the fire was only 100 meters from Farella winery, as shown in the photo below with Tom Farrella.

Tom_Farella-5.jpg

Other photos were taken along the Silverado Trail by Poe winemaker Sam Sheehan. She and her family have been evacuated from their home.

Silverado_Trail_fire_9_Oct_2017-4.jpg

Another fire burns near Calistoga on both the Napa and Sonoma sides of the range that separates them, moving through Knight's Valley and Mark West areas. Kenwood on the Sonoma side has been evacuated.

North of Santa Rosa in Sonoma the Tubbs fire threatened as many as 20,000 acres before 7 am forcing the evacuation of two area hospitals as well as thousands of people. Homes and businesses have burned overnight.

Smaller fires have also erupted throughout Napa and Sonoma counties. The extent of damage and the number of evacuees is not yet clear as it all happened overnight. As the sun comes up fireplanes are now able to assist in the containment efforts and people are better able to respond to the situation.

Fires have also been reported in Mendocino and Lake Counties.