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County Fire rattles nerves at Napa's Lake Berryessa
Public Safety

County Fire rattles nerves at Napa's Lake Berryessa


Lake Berryessa is near enough to the County Fire to rattle the nerves of residents, prompt evacuation preparedness warnings and leave resort operators wondering how many visitors will come for the Fourth of July holiday.

The Blue Ridge mountains on the remote east side of the lake are going up in smoke. The 70,000-acre fire as of Tuesday had burned amid an area more than three times as large as the massive federal reservoir, though it was a few miles away from the mainstream of Berryessa life.

People as of Tuesday could go to the federal reservoir for boating, fishing, swimming and other water sports. Still, the fire cast a shadow over what would usually be a festive week.

“For people who are planning to visit Lake Berryessa, they really need to plan ahead and be aware of road closures,” said Margaret Bailey, a park manager for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. “They also need to check the latest fire updates.”

Berryessa Highlands, Markley Cove Resort, Pleasure Cove Marina and Steele Canyon Road on Tuesday morning were under an evacuation advisory. That meant people there should be prepared to leave if necessary, Deputy Napa County Executive Officer Molly Rattigan said. The areas faced no immediate threat.

Rattigan said the advisory won’t be lifted until the fire break line is secured. That probably won’t happen until after Wednesday.

Stu Williams lives in Berryessa Highlands. About three miles of lake separates the community of 300 homes from the fire, but winds Monday evening threatened to blow hot embers in that direction, he said.

“Everybody is on edge,” he said, though he noted weather conditions looked favorable on Tuesday morning and were predicted to remain that way for several days.

Williams said at least a couple of dozen fire trucks were in the area Monday night. A Napa County Sheriff’s Office official called him at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday to update him on the fire situation. People were to evacuate if they heard a siren.

“The whole Blue Ridge is nothing but smoke,” he said. “Last night I went to bed about midnight and you could see it, it looked like a Christmas tree lit up with lights around it. All of those lights were actually fires that were burning on the Blue Ridge mountains.”

He praised county officials for monitoring the situation closely and keeping residents informed.

Only last October, Berryessa Highlands was threatened by the Atlas Fire and had to evacuate. The County Fire is sparking unwanted memories.

“It’s been a very scary situation, déjà vu all over again,” Williams said.

County Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza went to Berryessa Highlands on Sunday and Monday nights. He praised the community for being proactive. Residents were on their decks monitoring the situation, getting hoses out and communicating on the Nextdoor social media network.

“We’re working with them to assure we’re providing them with the most update information we have, as well,” Pedroza said, adding that included having Sheriff’s personnel go door-to-door.

Markley Cove resort has a marina, cabins, a store and boat rentals. Chad Frazier of the resort said business has been pretty slow for the past couple of days.

“We’re open and ready to go,” he said. “Obviously, we’re being somewhat affected by smoke, but that’s about it. The fire is across the lake from us a couple of miles away. For us, it hasn’t had any effect.”

People coming on the Fourth of July might have the lake to themselves on a day when it’s usually packed, he said.

“We’d be glad to see them,” Frazier said. “If someone’s adventurous, this would be a great time to come.”

Spanish Flat resort is on the west side of Lake Berryessa and had no evacuation advisory as of Tuesday. Operator Craig Morton said visitors were still coming, though the resort had a few cancellations.

“The fire is on the east side of the lake and shouldn’t bother us … a little soot and a little smoke,” Morton said. “We’re open.”

He said the resort should be full next weekend. He doesn’t expect it to be full on the Fourth of July because the holiday falls in the middle of the week.

“The biggest thing is, they can still come up and enjoy the lake,” Morton said. “If you’re bringing fireworks, stay home.”

The Bureau of Reclamation runs day use areas and the Capell Cove boat launch. All remained open as of Tuesday.

“That could change for whatever reason,” Bailey said. “It’s not likely we would see active fire on the west side of the lake, but that’s not to say it couldn’t happen if it came around the north or the south of the lake.”

She advised people driving on lake roads to be looking out for firefighting vehicle traffic.

“Right now we have really gusty winds and the smoke is such I can’t see across the lake,” Bailey said on Tuesday afternoon. “We’ve got smoke in our airshed. Our air quality is not the best at the moment.”

The County Fire started at 2:12 p.m. Saturday. Cal Fire on Tuesday reported efforts to tame it involved 2,162 firefighters, 187 fire engines, 18 helicopters and 50 bulldozers.

Visit Napa Valley released a statement on Tuesday in an effort to let people know that Napa Valley hotels, wineries, restaurants and attractions remain open. So do the primary roads leading to the valley.

While some smoke may be visible, no air quality advisories have been issued at this time, the statement said. Napa Valley is located more than 12 miles west of the western edge of the fire.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.

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