On Monday, strong wildfires accompanied with ferocious winds at 50 to 60 miles per hour began to devastate the northern area of California. Since yesterday, NBC News reported that the fires have consumed over 107,000 acres of land, destroyed over 1,500 structures, and killed at least 11 people.
Due to heat, lack of humidity, and severe wind speeds, it was very hard for the firefighters to initially gain control of the blaze. In the wine country alone, the fire charred 20,000 acres in a mere 12 hours. Jonathan Cox, battalion chief and spokesman for Cal Fire, said that this was “a phenomenal rate of growth” and that the firefighters had “zero percent” contamination at the moment.
On Monday night, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in the affected areas as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency approving the state’s request for federal money to assist putting out the fires as stated by the Department of Homeland Security.
As of today, assistant deputy director for Cal Fire, Daniel Berlant, told The Washington Post that because the winds have slowed down to less than 10 mph, it has “given [them] a good opportunity to make progress on the fires.” Berlant hopes that the combination of cooler temperatures and less wind will allow them to keep putting out more fires and bring people back home.
Berlant stated that his men are currently fighting 17 large wildfires which have spread across multiple wine country counties and displaced more than 20,000 people. In Sonoma County alone, officials reported over 100 phone calls were placed in search of missing persons. They do believe that some of these are duplicates.
Sonoma County Sherrif’s Office posted on their Facebook that they are “preparing for further fatalities” but they are “confident that many of the people [reported missing] will be found safe and reunited with loved ones.”
— Paul Beckwith (@PaulHBeckwith) October 9, 2017
As the fire keeps burning, many have grown concerned about the economic impact on the wine industry. As found by the Stonebridge Research Group, the Napa and Sonoma wineries contribute a combined estimate of $26 billion locally each year. In the two counties alone, there are over 650 wineries which occupy over 100,000 acres of wine grapes.
In an interview with CNN, Alison Crowe, a winemaker for the Garnet Vineyards & Picket Fence Vineyards in Napa Valley, stated that between two-thirds and three-fourths of Napa’s grape harvest have passed, but not all grapes have been picked. wine doesn’t matter; people matter” as that is what “people’s attitude [is] right now.”
“Wine doesn’t matter; people matter,” Crowe told CNN. “I know that’s people’s attitude right now.”
Like many other grape growers in the area, it will not be known how detrimental the wildfires will be to the industry as there are still evacuations taking place.
Many residents in Northern California are left stranded. Most were forced from their homes with very little notice, with only the clothes on their backs. Hotels in surrounding areas are starting to become crowded with people seeking refuge. The Washington Post explained that there are “shortages of rooms, bottled water and fuel.”
Both the government officials as well as the fire department’s have stated that there are more supplies coming into the area to help put out the flames. But, Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann, commented that “as of right now, with these conditions, we can’t get in front of this fire and do anything about forward progress.”
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