Cooler, damp weather overnight helped firefighters make progress against the wildfire burning in Pope Valley, CalFire reports, but the fire remained only about 30 percent contained as of Wednesday night.
The fire has scorched more than 3,800 acres as of 4:30 p.m. and forced the evacuation of residents throughout the area, particularly in the Berryessa Estates subdivision toward the northern tip of Lake Berryessa.
Those evacuating included people such as Cecelia Stevens, a Snell Valley resident who left her home Tuesday afternoon, and said Wednesday that she could be returning home in three days. She is now staying with friends in Middletown.
Thirty people were at the shelter at Middletown High School Tuesday night, said Anne Steinhauer, executive director of the Napa County Chapter of the American Red Cross. The shelter was expected to be open again Wednesday night.
An unknown number of evacuees are also staying at the Twin Pine Casino and Hotel in Middletown, a representative at the 59-room hotel said.
Lake County Animal Care and Control is assisting at the shelter, bringing food, bowls, leashes and pet crates, said American Red Cross representative Susanne La Faver.
At least five structures were consumed on the first day of the fire and another 380 are threatened. There are no reports of injuries.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation by CalFire. Several area residents and Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht, who been following developments along with county officials, said that flames may have started from sparks caused when a piece of landscaping equipment hit a rock.
About 700 firefighters continued to battle the blaze Wednesday afternoon, CalFire Battalion Chief Chris Christopherson said. While the fire spread to the northeast into Lake County toward Snell Peak, most of the blaze was still burning in Napa County, according to CalFire.
Isabelle Landry, who was riding horses with friends at an equestrian camp, first noticed the fire along Butts Canyon Road in Pope Valley around 12:40 p.m., some 35 minutes after CalFire received the first reports.
“It was just a puff of smoke in the distance,” she said.
For the children who were riding horses, said Landry, the concern was for the new colt they had seen at the horse ranch.
Within an hour, the fire—driven by a strong breeze—had run from the 7800 block of Butts Canyon along a ridge, consuming an estimated 300 acres. Butts Canyon Road was closed at Aetna Springs Road, and people and horses were evacuated by troopers. Helicopters and firefighting planes were dumping water and fire retardant by 1:30 p.m.
Evacuation orders remained in place at Berryessa Estates, where Napa County Sheriff’s deputies and volunteers helped residents leave the 180-home subdivision.
When the fire jumped Butts and Snell Valley roads, about 60 Berryessa Estates residents remained in a fire-safe zone cleared of vegetation.
“They did a remarkable job of knocking the fire down before it went dark last night,” said longtime Berryessa Estates resident John Hallman Wednesday afternoon.
The fire sent a huge plume of smoke skyward that was visible throughout the region and as far south as American Canyon, though the scene was hidden by fog by the morning.
Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday morning secured a Fire Management Assistance Grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help with the cost of fighting the blaze.
On Tuesday afternoon, Stevens, a Snell Valley resident, saw the fire coming over the mountain. “It was huge with billowing smoke,” she said.
Wednesday morning, Stevens recounted her story: She called her mother, packed a few valuables, took her two dogs and a bird, and gathered up thousands of dollars’ worth of seeds before she evacuated. Stevens works for an organic farm and didn’t want to see the seeds destroyed, which would have killed the business, she said.
As she headed to Middletown, she saw telephone poles burning.
Stevens expressed her thanks for the firefighters who saved her house and farm. Later Wednesday, she was escorted back to the farm, so she could water the plants.
Kerana Todorov, Cynthia Sweeney, Sean Scully and Howard Yune contributed to this report.