The wind howled and moaned throughout Wednesday night. My wife rolled and fretted as the house creaked and the trees swayed ominously.
In the morning, word had it that there was a large fire to our north in Geyserville, a town we love to visit because it’s a lovely drive up and it’s home to two of the area’s best restaurants. I looked out the front window and saw an angry glow over the hills to the northwest.
In town in Calistoga after dawn, people looked tired and drawn in the grocery store aisles. Half the town was suffering without power, the other half was covered by a bank of generators at the PG&E substation, so they were quietly thankful that it was that other side of town that had it bad.
Everyone in town could see the fire off to our north.
On Facebook, one reader messaged the Register around 5 a.m. to inquire about the large and growing fire upvalley, perhaps in the vicinity of Yountville.
I checked the Cal Fire website—no fire activity in Napa, but there was the fire at Geyserville, the only major blaze in the area. The reader was incredulous — the fire looked so close from her south Napa home.
Later, radio station KQED reported that fire officials in Sonoma County were inundated with reports of a major fire overnight from as far away as Santa Rosa. Callers reported fire bearing down on them, although the only blaze was miles away at Geyserville.
Apparently, they noted, it is very difficult to judge how close a major fire is at night. As soon as our staff started rolling into the office Thursday morning, we double checked with fire officials to confirm that there was not, in fact, any fire in Napa. So far, so good, they reported. We posted some wire pieces about the Geyserville fire and the general fire conditions in the region, with a reassuring note that there was no fire anywhere near any Napa County communities.
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Still, readers were thoroughly rattled and the stories quickly jumped to our top spots, with hundreds of views each in less than an hour.
“Why do I suddenly have a very uneasy feeling?” one reader asked on Facebook.
“I have that same feeling,” another replied.
My editors and I discussed how to proceed in our news coverage on Thursday.
Even though there was no sign of fire, “no news is news in itself,” I told them. That meant we’d continue to post updates on regional fires and keep a close eye on any fires in Napa County. Normally when something is not happening, it’s not news, but wine country residents are so rattled by the 2017 fires that the absence of fire in these conditions is worth reporting, if for no other reason than to keep people calm and reassured.
The scars on the landscape from those 2017 fires are not quite gone, but they are definitely healing—dead trees are being removed. Burned houses cleared and even being rebuilt. Some burned trees are even putting out new growth, evidence of their natural resilience. Driving along rural roads in the burn zones, things are almost looking normal again, at least in spots.
But it’s clear from our collective response to those hot, dry winds on Wednesday night, and the angry glow on the horizon early Thursday, that out internal scars will take far longer to heal.