California Fire Season Starts Early

It's still June, but already there have been fire evacuations in Sonoma's wine country.

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At least nine wineries in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley were evacuated Sunday by a fast-moving wildfire. Another 13 wineries were facing an evacuation warning, depending on how fast the fire spread.

The Point Fire had reached 1200 acres by Monday afternoon, with just 20 percent contained. The fire is in a rural area, but one blessed with 100-year-old Zinfandel vineyards as well as homes and wineries. At least one barn burned down; there is no information yet on other structures. CalFire was attacking the fire from above with helicopters, even at night, and fixed-wing aeroplanes during the day.”This Dry Creek Valley area has residential, industrial, commercial, recreational values at risk,” said Cal Fire Assistant Chief Mike Wink. “All of those are of great concern.”

The evacuated wineries include Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery, Bella Vineyards & Wine Caves, Capo Creek Winery, Martorana Family Winery, Michel-Schlumberger Wine Estate, Quivira Vineyards, Mounts Family Winery, A. Rafanelli Winery and Dutcher Crossing Winery.

“Fortunately our Ferrari-Carano team, vineyards, and winery are currently safe,” winery spokesperson Nora Feeley told Wine-Searcher. “We evacuated yesterday and as a precaution, we will remain closed through Tuesday, June 18.”

Dry Creek Valley has more than 9000 acres of vineyards owned by 150 different winegrowers. It is most known for Zinfandel. There are 32 different Dry Creek Valley vineyards at least 69 years old listed in the Old Vine Registry, including 18 that are more than 100 years old and five that were planted in the 1800s. The oldest are two Teldeschi Ranch vineyards planted in 1885.

Vineyards are more resistant to fire than either forest or open grassland, but many of the oldest vineyards are dry farmed, and one of the reasons for vineyards’ fire resistance is that vines often hold more water than other plants.

Sonoma County setup evacuation centres at two local high schools, Laguna and El Molino. More than 300 residents were ordered to evacuate while another 400 are under an evacuation warning that could be upgraded. Power has been cut off in the wildfire area. There is no indication yet of how the fire started.

The Point Fire is the earliest large wildfire to hit Sonoma County since 2016. But it wasn’t a surprise because conditions were building.

In winter, California had an outstanding rainy season, enough to refill reservoirs after a multi-year drought. However, that meant lots of fresh vegetation, which has become fire fuel in warm and dry conditions. Napa County had an even earlier start to the wildfire season, being hit by the 60-acre Crystal Fire two weeks earlier.

Much of northern California wine country was under a red-flag fire warning Monday because of warm, dry, windy conditions that accelerated fire spread. The relative humidity in Healdsburg, the closest city to the Point Fire, was just 10 percent on Monday afternoon; in contrast, San Francisco had relative humidity of 37 percent and Oakland had 42 percent. Residents of the cities of Napa and Sonoma can be glad the Point Fire is miles away because both had relative humidities of just 6 percent.

The American Red Cross issued an unhealthy air quality warning for the North Bay north of San Francisco, and suggested that people who must go outside should wear an N-95 mask. Perhaps because of the strong winds, air quality in San Francisco itself as well as in the city of Napa was still good on Monday afternoon.

Good news for wineries is that it is probably too early in the season for smoke taint, which is believed to not affect wine grapes before the process of veraison, in which early-season small green berries grow and change colour. Veraison doesn’t generally happen in California until mid- to late-July.


Source: Wine-searcher

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