The stats are sobering. Over 40 people have been confirmed dead. More than 400 square miles have been torched, and close to 6000 homes have been lost. At the time of writing this, there is decent containment of many fires, though some areas are still burning, and some 70,000 residents have been allowed to return to their homes. More people have died in this complex of wildfires than in any other fire in California history. In the city of Santa Rosa alone, the preliminary estimate is that there has been a total loss of 5% of the city’s housing and $1.2B in damage. Thousands of people are displaced, and many have lost businesses if not lives.
Vineyards actually might have played a part in keeping things from getting even worse. Their high moisture content and the fact that they are usually kept very clear of dry weeds in the fall makes them relatively useful as firebreaks; though some vintners did lose some or all of their vines, others have reported that vineyards helped to save or prevent major damage to nearby structures.
Twenty-two wineries are known to have sustained significant damage to their facilities, their vines, or their wine stock. They include Frey, Domaine Carneros, Ancient Oaks, Hagafen, Jarvis, Signorello, Oster, Mayacamas, Paradise Ridge, Paras Vineyard, Roy Estate, Segassia, VinRoc, Sill Family, Pulido-Walker and Backbone Vineyard and Winery. Some properties were totaled; others suffered varying degrees of partial loss.
What does this mean for the wine industry in Napa and Sonoma? An amazing number of wine properties were unscathed, while some people lost beloved family businesses, with a vast range of damage reports in between still rolling in as people become able to take stock. At this time, most of the valley is safe to visit, most tasting rooms are open, and Napa, Mendocino and Sonoma county wine families are banding together to help those who were less fortunate.
If you are in the area, many organizations are accepting cash and goods donations to help displaced and economically-afflicted fire victims. The wineries of Napa Valley would also like you to know that helping them return to “business as usual” is one of the best things people can do. Wine tourism gives many people in these counties their jobs, and helping those businesses will help them to help their neighbors.
It will take a while to determine the scope of economic damage from these fires, but it’s been a harrowing couple of weeks. Happily, the news is starting to improve, with fires becoming more contained and evacuated people in some areas becoming more stabilized. Meanwhile, people interested in helping can find a list of resources here – fires.
This would also be a good example of a time when you can help by buying wine. Meanwhile, please keep these folks in your thoughts.