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California wildfires rage renowned vineyards in Napa and Sonoma counties

Tuesday, September 29th 2020 - 08:39 UTC
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The fire erupted before dawn on Sunday in the heart of the Napa Valley wine-growing region, and had spread by afternoon across 810 hectares The fire erupted before dawn on Sunday in the heart of the Napa Valley wine-growing region, and had spread by afternoon across 810 hectares

A wind-driven wildfire raged for a second day through Northern California wine country on Monday, burning homes, forcing thousands of residents to flee, and threatening some of the world-renowned vineyards of Napa and Sonoma counties.

As of Monday, a blaze dubbed the Glass Fire had spread across 4,450 hectares of rolling grassy hillsides and oak woodlands, fanned by high winds and fueled largely by thick, dry scrub left unburned by previous wildfires.

The fire erupted before dawn on Sunday near Calistoga, in the heart of the Napa Valley wine-growing region about 120 km north of San Francisco, and had spread by afternoon across 810 hectares. By Monday, the blaze and two other fires had merged into a larger conflagration straddling western Napa County and an adjacent swath of Sonoma County, with containment listed at zero.

In one notable property loss, the mansion-like Chateau Boswell winery in St. Helena, a familiar landmark along the Silverado Trail road running the length of the Napa Valley, went up in flames on Sunday night.

An estimated 60,000 residents have been placed under evacuation orders or advisories in Sonoma and Napa counties combined.

No injuries have been reported, and the fire’s cause was under investigation. Santa Rosa Fire Chief Anthony Gossner said the blaze was burning mostly through overgrown scrub in areas that had seen little or no wildfire activity in a century.

The Glass Fire marked the latest flashpoint in a historically destructive wildfire season throughout the Western United States.

In California alone, wildfires have scorched 1.5 million hectares since January - far exceeding any single year in state history. They have been stoked by intense, prolonged bouts of heat, high winds and other weather extremes that scientists attribute to climate change. Since mid-August, fires in the state have killed 26 people and destroyed over 7,000 structures.

The Glass struck about midway through the region’s traditional grape-harvesting season, already disrupted by a spate of large fires earlier this summer. Several Napa Valley growers said recently they would forgo a 2020 vintage altogether due to smoke contamination of ripening grapes waiting to be picked.

The 475 vintners in Napa Valley alone account for just 4% of the state’s grape harvest but half the retail value of all California wines sold. Sonoma County, too, has become a premiere viticulture region with some 450 wineries and a million acres of vineyards.

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