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‘New Normal’

Napa County declares 'new normal' as crews beat back wildfires

From the THE LATEST: Napa County Wildfire Updates series
Wild Horse Valley

This photo was taken in the Wild Horse Valley area on Saturday while wildfires raged across Northern California.

After days of thick, choking smoke over the Napa Valley, Sunday dawned blue and clear – much like county Supervisor Belia Ramos’ outlook, one week after massive wildfires broke out in the North Bay.

“It’s a crisp fall day in the Napa Valley, and we are so close to a new normal,” she said at a press conference at the Sheriff’s Office on Sunday morning that featured updates on the increasing containment of blazes outside Napa, Yountville and Calistoga. “The day we hoped for, one week later, has come.”

Authorities reported no new breakouts overnight of the conflagrations that have killed at least 40 people, including six in Napa County, forced thousands more to flee and overrun tens of thousands of acres in Napa and Sonoma counties, including neighborhoods of Santa Rosa that were reduced to cinders.

Sunday afternoon, authorities announced the end of mandatory evacuations for the city of Calistoga and the Gordon Valley area. The communities were being reopened only to residents and public safety workers, not to visitors, Deputy County Executive Officer Molly Rattigan said in a statement shortly before 1:45 p.m.

Calistoga residents were allowed to return home starting at 2 p.m. using Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail, but other routes to the Upvalley town remained closed. All legal access routes to Gordon Valley and Wooden Valley Cross roads were through Solano County due to continuing shutdowns of Highway 128 and Monticello Road near the Atlas Fire, Rattigan said.

Calistoga had ordered all 5,000-plus residents to leave on Wednesday, as the Tubbs Fire edged onto Mount St. Helena within two miles of the Upvalley resort town.

Earlier, Mayor Chris Canning said the town would time the end of its evacuation based on further containment of the Tubbs Fire and the absence of strong northerly winds, to avoid having to order residents to flee a second time if winds suddenly shift – as happened in parts of Santa Rosa and the city of Sonoma last week.

Despite a red flag high-wind warning that stayed in effect through 8 a.m. Sunday, fire crews increased their containment of the Atlas Fire east of Napa to 56 percent at 51,057 acres, and the Tubbs Fire north of Calistoga to 60 percent at 35,470 acres, Cal Fire announced shortly before 7:30 a.m.

Fire agencies battling the Atlas Fire are concentrating on its east and north flanks “to keep it in its box, and we’re very confident that it will remain there,” said Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann.

With the continuing progress made outside Napa and Calistoga, Biermann added, fire agencies are steering more resources toward the Nuns Fire, which is burning west of Browns Valley, Yountville, Oakville and Rutherford. Cal Fire listed the Nuns Fire as 25 percent contained, covering 47,106 acres.

Fire lines in the west valley held Saturday night, with more secondary lines added, including near the Veterans Home of California, Biermann told reporters. “I do not see any threat to any communities on the Highway 29 corridor,” he said.

The National Weather Service forecasted a high of 86 degrees under sunny skies at Napa County Airport, with north-northeast winds of 5 to 10 mph. Rain is in the local forecast Thursday into Friday morning.

Biermann said firefighters do not anticipate the Tubbs Fire advancing past Mount St. Helena into Calistoga.

All road closures in and near fire zones remained in effect Sunday, according to Capt. Chris Childs of the California Highway Patrol in Napa. As in Calistoga, road reopenings in the county will initially be only for residents before outsiders are also let through.

Vineyard owners and winemakers seeking access to evacuation zones in Calistoga or the unincorporated county to check on their crops are asked to call 707-253-4501 in advance.

Restaurant owners and managers seeking to provide food for firefighters and other safety staff are asked to arrange their contributions by calling the Napa Salvation Army at 707-226-8150.

Napa County has asked donors not to give any more in-kind donations of clothing, toiletries, prepared food and the like. Instead, people should donate money directly to the Napa Valley Community Foundation at napavalleycf.org.

To help fire evacuees, $25 Visa, American Express, or MasterCard gift cards can be donated to the Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership located at 433 Soscol Ave. (Suite A-100) in Napa.

Local assistance centers will be opening this week, the county announced earlier.

Napa County and city scheduled two public meetings Sunday to provide fire updates to the public. A Spanish-language meeting was to take place at 1 p.m. at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, 960 Caymus St. in Napa, with an English-language meeting at 3:30 p.m. at the Napa Valley Unified School District auditorium, 2425 Jefferson St. in Napa. Both forums were to be streamed online via Facebook Live.

Sunday’s media briefing was to be the last to be scheduled as Napa shifts from emergency to recovery mode, Ramos said in conclusion.

“A week ago, it started as a nightmare,” she said. “Now, the day we have waited for has arrived. It’s going to be a long road to recovery, and I look forward to the day when this is a distant memory, when we recall that we were resilient and we got through this together.

“Be well, Napa, and be safe.”

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Public Safety Reporter

Howard Yune covers public safety for the Napa Valley Register. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.

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