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Napa wine industry assesses damage to wineries and grape crop
 Henry Lutz  / 

As the wildfires that have ravaged Napa since Sunday night continued to burn on Wednesday, a tally of the destruction wrought on the local wine industry grew.

Two of the three farmworker housing centers in the valley had been evacuated by Wednesday, while the status of one center located on Silverado Trail near several damaged wineries remained unknown.

The Napa Valley Vintners trade group added to the number of member wineries that have been damaged, bringing the total on Wednesday morning to five physical wineries that had suffered total or very significant losses. The group had received responses from at least 120 of its more than 500 members, but had yet to hear from “about a dozen” of its members in the most at-risk areas near the Atlas Peak, Tubbs and Partrick fires.

Of those who had responded to the group, 11 had reported damage to their vineyards, wineries or other buildings on their properties.

A complete roster of those affected was not immediately available Wednesday, but vintners and wineries in at-risk areas continued to take to social media with updates. Others recounted having to evacuate their homes, like many of the county’s residents.

Mayacamas Vineyards, the historic winery on Lokoya Road in the evacuated Mount Veeder area, wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday afternoon that “the winery is safe so far, but we have serious concerns about two wildfires to our West.”

A representative of Segassia Vineyard on Mount Veeder Road reported Wednesday via email that the property’s team had been evacuated and was safe, “…but the fruit remains to dehydrate on the vines, during prime harvest season. Right now, what has not been destroyed will be lost.”

The vineyard provides the cabernet sauvignon grapes for the acclaimed Segassia Vineyard cabernet from HALL wines.

Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, 94, said he was awakened at his home in the northeast hills of Calistoga in the middle of Sunday night and told he had to evacuate. “I had never experienced anything like this,” said the veteran vintner, who fled Communist Yugoslavia in the 1950s before making his way to Napa Valley in 1958 to make wine.

Grgich went to the Victorian house he owns in Yountville, but on Wednesday morning he and his companion were driving farther south to escape the smoke in the resort town. “It is too hard on my old lungs,” Grgich said, adding that he still did not know if the house he built on a hillside in Calistoga had survived the fires along with the vineyard of old zinfandel that grows near it.

Vintner Tim Mondavi spoke from San Francisco, having been evacuated from his home on Silverado Trail.

“There are a lot of people from the valley here,” he said. “I keep running into them. Everyone is sharing news as they hear it.”

To his knowledge, his house was still standing, Mondavi said, but he hasn’t been able to return.

Continuum, his Pritchard Hill winery in east Napa, is standing and running on back-up power from a generator, he said. “Fuel is a concern. We have enough left for a couple of days, but obviously can’t bring any more in.”

Continuum had brought in about two-thirds of their harvested grapes when the fire broke out, and he hopes to be able to get the remaining one-third in “as soon as possible, if it is possible.” But for the time being, the safety of the crew and staff is the paramount concern.

Mondavi said the team was trying to establish fire breaks around Continuum on Wednesday.

Of the valley’s three farmworker housing centers, only the Calistoga center remained open on Wednesday. Gil Ortiz, the site’s manager, said the center was located three miles south of where the fire was burning Wednesday morning and had not been told to evacuate. “We’ve been real lucky,” he said.

Of the 55 residents at the center, Ortiz estimated only about 10 were working on Wednesday, while others “have already been told by their employer … the season is already over.”

Angel Calderon, manager of the River Ranch farmworker housing center, said from the center by phone that the center’s 60 residents had been evacuated Tuesday night and Calderon had just returned Wednesday morning to check on the site.

“Everything looks normal,” he said. “We have electricity. We have services.” But he noted smoke was heavy near the site that morning.

For some of the center’s evacuees, Calderon said, “the harvest is over. I don’t think they’re going to pick any more grapes.”

To his knowledge, some were returning to Mexico, while others had gone to Vallejo to stay with family members. Still some have remained in the area, he said, “They call me and tell me they are sleeping in their cars.”

It was unclear on Wednesday when the River Ranch center would be able to reopen. “As soon as the situation is over we want to reopen and we’re going to see how many people come back,” he said.

Meanwhile, the status of the Mondavi farmworker housing center on Silverado Trail was still unknown on Wednesday. Located dangerously close to several wineries that were reported damaged, the center’s 56 residents were evacuated Sunday night as the Atlas Peak fire approached, said site manager Jose Munoz by phone Wednesday morning. The area remained inaccessible on Wednesday, Munoz said.

As the complete scope of destruction in Napa and Sonoma wine country continues to grow, the wider California wine industry has been mobilizing. Industry leaders throughout the state on Wednesday called for immediate support, including water tanks, generators, tractors and trailers, lodging and volunteer labor. For long-term support, the Sonoma County Resilience Fund, the Napa Valley Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of Mendocino County are all accepting donations.

“We need the entire wine community to support this region with immediate and strategic action,” Ann Petersen, executive director of Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley, said in a release.

Megan Metz, executive director of the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association, said in the release, “It’s times like these that remind us how important the company of family and friends can be. We have banded together to help our friends as best we can to protect their businesses and livelihoods and will continue partnering on recovery efforts in the weeks and months ahead.”

Features Editor Sasha Paulsen contributed to this report.

Maria Sestito, Register  

The ground was blackened underneath grapevines at Robert Sinskey Vineyards, 6320 Silverado Trail in Napa, Tuesday afternoon.

City of Napa trying to extinguish fake fire news
 Barry Eberling  / 

City of Napa officials want to extinguish the fake news before it spreads like wildfire.

For example, a Facebook report on Tuesday falsely said Broadmoor Drive area in Browns Valley was burning. A resident said the looky-loos flocked to the area – 30 to 40 carloads of them -to watch the non-existent disaster.

The Partrick and Nuns fires weren’t immediately threatening the city of Napa and Browns Valley. As of Wednesday, no part of the city had been evacuated.

“All we ask is don’t spread rumors, don’t play with other people’s emotions and treat everybody respectfully,” Police Chief Steve Potter said.

Then there was the television news report that said city residents should boil their water before drinking it. In fact, the city had issued this order only for a fire-battered area mostly outside of city limits, much of it an evacuation area.

“Your water is safe,” Joy Eldredge, general manager of the city Water Division said. “It’s ready for drinking.”

City officials delivered these and other messages during a 1 p.m. Wednesday town hall meeting at Browns Valley Elementary School, with an encore session planned for 6 p.m. at City Hall. The city convened the meeting by social media only an hour before it started and enough residents responded to pack the auditorium and spill out the doors.

Potter didn’t sugarcoat the real, accurate information.

“Most fires of this size go for weeks, if not months,” he said to a few groans. “We need to plan for the long haul.”

The city is between the jaws of a fiery pincer. It has the Partrick, Nuns and Norrbom fires on the west side in the Mayacamas mountains and Carneros area and the Atlas fire to the east.

Napa Fire Chief Steve Brassfield said the city has significant buffers on both its west and east sides from the fires.

“Were hoping and praying those boundaries stay intact,” Brassfield said. “We have fire resources all around the city …. We have resources coming from both Oregon and Nevada, more federal resources coming.”

The weather unfortunately has changed 180 degrees every 12 hours or so in terms of the winds, Brassfield said. That means strategies to fight the fires have also had to constantly change.

People asked how an evacuation within city limits would work. City officials said they would communicate by Nixel and social media. They would, if necessary, go through neighborhoods using sirens and public address systems and knock on doors.

“Is there any fear of a potential mass exiting, and how to we manage such chaos?” a resident asked.

Don’t wait until the last minute to prepare, and have everything ready ahead of time, Potter said. People can also think ahead to what evacuation route they would take.

The presentation took place on a stage against a painted backdrop of a clear, blue sky with puffy, white clouds, perhaps from a student play. But the view out the door was only of a smoky haze that has suddenly become a way of life in Napa.

Horse lovers help evacuate animals to safety, again
 Jennifer Huffman  / 

Dozens of horse owners and lovers helped relocate about 170 horses from a Napa barn and temporary animal shelter on Wednesday morning.

The horses were temporary residents at the Valley Brook Equestrian Center on El Centro Avenue, having arrived on Sunday and Monday from the Napa hills and other areas to escape fires.

But when smoke continued to blanket the valley on Wednesday morning, the decision was made to move the horses yet again, this time to ranches near the coast and space at the Solano County Fairgrounds.

That would also make room for any other horses that still needed to be rescued, said Claudia Sonder, DVM and a member of the Napa Community Animal Response Team.

“We made a strategic decision to relocate them” while traffic was manageable and trailers were available, said Sonder.

The equestrian center is normally home to about 60 horses but using temporary corrals the visiting horses were housed “in every nook and cranny,” Sonder said.

Equestrian Center owner Devon Day said that there was no question she was going to help house the dozens of horses when the fires began.

“We have a lot of space,” she said of the 10-acre parcel located in north Napa. “When you get the call, you help,” whether it be for people or animals, she said.

When word spread that the animals would be moved again, as many as 50 trailers showed up early Wednesday morning, loading horse after horse into portable stalls on wheels.

“People with trailers kept coming and coming,” Day said. “It was amazing.”

On Wednesday, as the group prepared to load up the last horses in trailers, Sonder credited the volunteers who showed up en masse to move the animals.

One woman drove up unannounced and left three dozen boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts. Someone else brought sandwiches. Water, hay and other supplies were received.

“There has been tremendous community support,” she said.

Alycia Mondavi had one horse at the center that had been already moved out by late Wednesday morning.

“Our horses are safe,” Mondavi said thankfully. The key during such an emergency is “to remain calm and get it done,” she said.

“Change is really hard on horses,” said Day. Having already been evacuated from their original homes, “they’ve already gone through so much.” And, “We’re not through yet.”

Martin Castro, a longtime groom at the center, said that he was determined to make sure the animals were taken care of. He said he had been at the barn nonstop for more than two days.

“I’m happy to help the horses and people,” he said in Spanish.

Adaline Hanes, 14, helped move the horses on Wednesday. Her horse, Capone, lives at the center.

“I don’t want anything to happen here,” she said, tears filling her eyes. “I spend all my time here, more than my own house.” The equestrian center “is basically my house.”

“Let’s make sure every horse is OK and I’ll be calmer,” she said.

Josephine Weis, 16, has two horses at the center, Darwin and Charlie.

“I thought we’d be in a safe area because we’re surrounded by vineyards,” she said. To see the horses gone, “it was shocking,” she said. “I never thought we’d have to leave.”

Ashley Perkins of Napa waited for her own horse, Lena, to be loaded on the last trailer and driven to safety.

“I feel pretty good now that I know where she is going,” said Perkins. Lena would be housed at a ranch on the Marin County coast in Nicasio.

“What everyone has done here has been pretty amazing,” she said. “The horse community is close, and everyone is willing to help.”

J.L. Sousa, Register  

Remnants of the Safeway Open are seen at Silverado Resort and Spa on Tuesday. The resort suffered damage from the Atlas Fire that swept through the area.

Napa hotels open doors for fire evacuees at reduced rates, and sometimes for free
 Jennifer Huffman  / 

Hundreds of Napa County residents who evacuated from their homes during the county’s wildfires have found temporary lodging where wine country visitors usually do – at local hotels and inns.

A number of Napa hotels are offering accommodations to evacuees, and often their own employees, at reduced prices and sometimes for free.

As of Tuesday, about 125 local families, some with as many as four or more people, had decamped to the Meritage Resort and Spa in south Napa, said Michael Palmer, general manager of the hotel.

The hotel is offering rooms for $99 per night for those impacted by the fires, said a news release. Such rooms usually go for about $370 or more per night this time of year.

More than 200 of those rooms were made available, said Andrew Bradley, marketing and communications manager at the Meritage Resort and Spa.

Some of those are from the Silverado area and others from other areas that were evacuated, Bradley said. The Meritage has been unaffected by the fires, he said.

Besides those guests, “We are offering a lounge area at our resort with complimentary water, coffee, charging stations, Internet access and TVs,” he said on Tuesday.

The lounge area is open Wednesday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. in two salons located between the main lobby and Siena restaurant. “We hope it provides comfort,” Bradley said.

Palmer said some out-of-town groups had cancelled reservations at the Meritage, but that actually helped free up rooms for those local residents who need accommodations.

“Now is not the time to be thinking of the financial picture,” he said. “It’s to make sure we’re helping out.”

Sara Brooks, the general manager at the Napa River Inn, said on Tuesday that her hotel was mostly occupied with fire evacuees.

“I think that a lot of people are just happy they are safe,” said Brooks.

“We’ve had some people that were really lucky to get out with their lives,” she said. “Losing their house is devastating but it puts things in perspective. There’s not a single person here who hasn’t been affected or know people who have lost their homes.”

As for the tourists who usually stay at the hotel, “A lot are trying to make the best of a bad situation, but most have left, some early,” she said. Others that don’t have flights for several more days have stayed on, she said.

“They’ve been pretty nice,” about the whole situation, she said of those guests.

Of the 66 rooms at the hotel, about 75 percent are occupied by evacuees, officials said.

“We started taking evacuees and we took as many as we could for free,” which is most of those evacuees, she said.

Some guests showed up with nothing but the clothes on their backs, she said. “We’ve been supplying a lot of bottled water, deodorant, tooth paste, toothbrushes …”

Families are sleeping in beds, on roll-away couches and airbeds, “whatever we could find to make people comfortable.”

And humans aren’t the only guests. “We have a ton of dogs staying here right now,” said Brooks. Usually the hotel has five to 10 dog guests at any one time. On Tuesday, there were about 30, plus a few cats.

“Napa is resilient,” said Brooks. “These are the times I love living here. Everyone comes together. People find out what other people need and they provide it.”

Jeffrey Miller, the new general manager at the Andaz hotel Napa, said that about half of the hotel’s 140 rooms are occupied by evacuees and some of their pets. Employees from PG&E and other agencies are also staying the hotel, he added.

Some of the local guests who have checked in seem “devastated,” he said. Many have arrived with few personal belongings.

To accommodate those evacuees, the hotel is charging rates that are “much, much less than normal,” he said.

Some Andaz employees have had a harder time getting to work. With schools temporarily closed, that can cause child care problems. The hotel is also making room for employees who are also displaced.

Silverado Resort and Spa, near where many homes were destroyed, remains closed until further notice.

“Guests and staff have been safely evacuated. We have waived cancellation fees for guests checking in this week and next week,” said Gabriella Chiera, senior manager, global communications for the Wyndham Hotel Group. The Silverado Resort and Spa is a Wyndham Hotel Group property.

“The situation continues to change very quickly and we are closely monitoring, although communication remains a challenge,” said Chiera.

Napa County hotels aren’t the only ones offering a helping hand. Hotel Zephyr in San Francisco is currently offering evacuees a $95 room rate, which will include breakfast, parking and Wi-Fi. Pets are welcome, said Jason Williams, general manager of Hotel Zephyr. Up to 20 rooms per night or more will be allocated, hotel officials said.

Sonoma Raceway opened its 50 Acres campground to evacuees.

Those in need of RV camping at Sonoma Raceway should enter the campground at Gate 6 on Highway 121, a quarter-mile north of Highway 37. The raceway will team up with United Site Services to offer basic RV services, including water/sewage service, to campers during their stay. The campground is dry with no hookups.