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Smoke from Mount St. Helena

Shortly after 8 a.m., Monday morning, smoke and flames could easily be seen from a turnout on Highway 29 on Mount St. Helena, two-and-a-half miles north of Tubbs Lane.

Business in Calistoga won’t be quite the same for a while as fire and thick smoke fill the air, and visitors being told to stay away until the emergency is over.

“A lot of people’s lives changed on Sunday and Monday,” said City Manager Dylan Feik.

Feik said the city limits have not been heavily affected by the fire itself, but the normally bustling sidewalks are barren of pedestrians, in part because the threat of fire is keeping away visitors and some locals have evacuated.

Out of safety concerns Feik said the city asked the lodging industry – Calistoga’s main source of revenue – to not encourage visitors to come to the area while the fires are burning and thick acrid smoke is hanging in the air.

“It’s desolate,” said Carlene Moore, CEO of the Napa County Fairgrounds of the downtown shopping district she visited Tuesday afternoon.

In the area where the fire is believed to have started, Bennett Lane Winery was erroneously rumored on social media to be lost to the fire, said Stefanie Longton, general manager of the winery.

“The winery is still there,” Longton said. “We were very lucky.”

The owners of Bennett Lane, Randy and Lisa Lynch, live on nearby Tubbs Lane and were able to get to the winery’s office to retrieve needed items, she said. There is still no power there or Internet, but as of Tuesday afternoon the winery and vineyards were OK.

Longton, who lives in Healdsburg, said it’s been difficult to stay in touch with people and keep up on the movement of the fire because cell phone service has been spotty.

Moore said Sunday night, the first night of the Tubbs fire, the Fairgrounds was opened as an evacuation center and some 150 people sheltered in the Tubbs building. When the second fire broke out about half of them left probably “wanting to get farther away” from the fires, she said.

During the daytime the evacuation center’s numbered dwindled, just as it did during the Valley fire, when Moore said people are out seeking answers to the safety of their homes, or looking for family and friends or trying to solve other problems. But people come back to the center for meals, she said.

This situation has been a “very manageable” one and is acting more as an information center. Since power was out to many areas and AT&T wireless coverage was out people were stopping in to ask questions about what was going on with the fires, evacuations, risks, and “anything of that nature,” she said.

They’ve been handing out respirator masks and water to keep people “hydrated and helping them to breathe,” Moore said.

The air quality is “just so bad” Feik said because it is not “just wildland smoke, it is nasty burned debris smoke” from such things as plastics and rubbers that create a “bad black” smoke.

The poor air quality is likely why more people haven’t come to shelter at the Fairgrounds in the evacuation center or the RV park.

Feik had not yet checked on the emergency call numbers to know if they had escalated from normal, but said there were five ambulances from outside agencies in Calistoga, and the city was receiving mutual aid assistance and the fire station was fully staffed.

It may be some time before officials are ready to announce the actual cause of the start of the fire, but it is believed the strong winds knocked down a power line, or a tree brought down a power line and sparks flew setting off a catastrophic blaze.

Wind power was evident all around town, Feik said, and at Logvy Park an uprooted tree’s root base was above his 6-foot frame.

Assessments of structures lost and value is not underway yet because it is too early and the focus is first on making sure people are safe rather than containing the fires. Road closures are still in place at press time for major thoroughfares including northbound Highway 29 at Tubbs Lane, Foothill Boulevard and Petrified Forest Road, and there is restricted access on Kortum Canyon Road from Foothill.

Calistoga Pet Clinic is open and receiving injured animals which are being given priority for vet care, said Pam Ingalls, president of Wine Country Animal Lovers (WCAL).

“WCAL is fundraising to take care of the clinic’s overhead. (Dr. Steven Franquelin) is donating his time. All of WCAL’s animals in foster care are safe,” Ingalls said.


The Weekly Calistogan Editor