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Cutting a fire break on Borrette Lane

A tractor discs a seven-acre field between Broadmoor Drive and Borrette Lane in west Napa’s Browns Valley neighborhood. Feeling at risk as fires on the city’s western edge shift in the winds, residents decided to take matters into their own hands Wednesday and reduce the fire danger.

They had to do something.

Yamini Rangan and Eileen Winter were staring out at seven acres of what was essentially wildfire kindling behind their homes on Broadmoor Drive on the western edge of Browns Valley.

After the tension of Tuesday night, with Napa police ramping up patrols and notifying residents in the area about a potential evacuation because of the encroaching Partrick Fire, the two neighbors decided to act and reduce the fire risk from their neighbor’s property.

“Look at the number of homes there. There’s 20 homes all around there,” said Rangan, pointing toward the fence line behind the houses on Broadmoor. More houses were vulnerable on Borrette Lane.

“I don’t want to have it on our conscience that the open field caused a problem … we have to take the responsibility,” she said.

The idea was simple. Rather than wait for the owner to act, they would try to build a fire break, removing the dead grass and exposing bare earth, and dampen the ground and the fences with water.

The only problem was getting a bulldozer and enough water to make all this happen. Rangan started putting out feelers on Facebook and calling rental companies and vineyard management companies to see if there was equipment that they could use.

But she was getting dismissed at every turn, and some even scoffed at the thought of lending equipment in a time like this.

Eventually she got put on to Walsh Vineyards Management, which could spare a disc mower to slice down the tall grass. Winter’s sister tracked down a broker who was able to connect them with Jim Brown, owner of Brown’s Water Trucks.

Suddenly, they were in business.

“Through many calls and Yamini being persistent and my sister hound-dogging the water issue, people just showed up,” Winter said. “It was fabulous. I was feeling very guilty and nervous about all these houses, and not knowing what to do. It’s hard to know what the right thing is.”

Brown’s company specializes in construction, water and aggregate hauling, and has been busy assisting his neighbors since the fires kicked up Sunday night.

“We’re going to help out and do what we can,” said Brown.

Joined in the water truck by his wife Diane, Brown circled the field multiple times Wednesday afternoon, spraying 20,000 gallons of water over the freshly cut grass and opening up the ground with the tires to make Rangan and Winter’s desired dozer line a reality. By 4 p.m., most of the field had been cleared and Brown was onto his second tank.

Whether their grassroots effort to defend their neighborhood will work, or will even get tested, remains to be seen.

The two women split time between San Francisco and Napa because of work, but the thought of simply surrendering to the fires and abandoning their homes was out of the question.

“We’re here every weekend,” Rangan said. “This is home. I grew up in India, but Napa is home. It’s very tough to see what’s going on.”

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Sports Reporter

Yousef was a Napa Valley Register sports reporter from February 2015 to April 2018, and hosted the Napa Register Radio podcast. He is a proud UGA graduate and has written for the Sacramento Bee, The Advocate and the Athens Banner-Herald, among others.