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Napa firefighter recounts saving Upvalley winery from fast-moving fire

Napa firefighter recounts saving Upvalley winery from fast-moving fire

Three City of Napa firefighters with a fire engine carrying 500 gallons of water proved able to hold off a newly born Glass Fire and save Boeschen Vineyards.

It took them several hours of hard, sweaty work that first night of the fire on Sept. 27. But, amid the tales of Glass Fire tragedy, they created one with a happy ending. The family winery, with its 11-acre vineyard and 1890 home along Silverado Trail, still stands.

“It seems like a miracle to us, considering the Armageddon that surrounds us on all sides,” Doug Boeschen said recently.

He and firefighter Matthew Colburn made contact after the firefight. Colburn shared a video of a firefighter running across the crush pad in the direction of flames.

“It was a classic ‘heroes-run-toward-the-trouble’ kind of video,” Boeschen said.

Colburn, Capt. Ty Becerra and firefighter Tyler Dombrowski were on a fire engine that responded to the Glass Fire after it broke out in the mountains east of St. Helena. They spent the day chasing the fire and then realized Boeschen Vineyards was in an area about to burn.

“It was just our engine,” Colburn said. “We drove back there and we noticed this entire property was about to be entirely overwhelmed.”

They couldn’t put the fire out. Rather, they had to try to redirect it, he said.

The 500 gallons of water in the engine wouldn’t last. Help from a water tender and strike teams wasn’t on the way, given other firefighters were busy with the fire elsewhere.

Colburn rigged up a garden hose to connect the vineyard irrigation system to the engine’s tank. During periods the firefighters waited for the engine tank to refill, they used chain saws and hand tools to cut back brush.

“There was one point I looked behind us, we had fire on the hill behind us and fire on the hill in front of us,” Colburn said. “We’re right in the middle of this. This thing was throwing embers for miles with the winds we had.”

At another point, Colburn heard the whistling sound of a propane tank bleeding off pressure. Then it exploded like a bomb.

“When that blew, you felt it in your chest,” he said.

The main front of the fire passed through. Colburn said spots still smoldered, but firefighters reached the point to where they believed flames wouldn’t again erupt.

Finally, just after midnight, the three firefighters left Boeschen Vineyards to fight the Glass Fire elsewhere. They checked back at 3 a.m. to make certain everything was still standing and it was.

Colburn talked about the unwanted scenario of successfully fighting a fire for five or six hours to save a property, only to later find fire subsequently destroyed it.

“We take that personally,” Colburn said. “We feel like if we only worked harder, if only we did something different, if only we saw something.”

Then there are cases like Boeschen Vineyards, when the property is saved and stays saved. Colburn said that’s when firefighters amid chaos and destruction make an immediate impact on people’s lives.

“It’s a good feeling,” he said.

An Associated Press photo of embers flying from a flaming palm tree received national attention. The Boeschens saw it and recognized the palm tree as being their own.

“I don’t think it will survive,” Boeschen said of the tree.

But all the structures on the property are undamaged. Lots of vines got toasted, but should survive, he said.

Boeschen Vineyards ended up a survivor along this section of Silverado Trail. The nearest winery to the north, Chateau Boswell, was destroyed. To the south, the Black Rock Inn was destroyed.

Overall, the Glass Fire destroyed 343 commercial structures and damaged another 32 in Napa County. It destroyed 307 homes and damaged 76. Three firefighters saved Boeschen Vineyards from joining those statistics.

You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or

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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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