A week ago, I was planning on writing about how harvest at Staglin was going. It was in the middle of the busiest week I’ve ever worked–13 to 16 hour days every day–and I had no idea when my next day off would be. We were cranking out tons of grapes and our tanks were filling faster than I could keep track of, but it was great. I love the people I work with, the family I work for, and the place I get to do it at and was excited to let you all know!
And then Monday hit. We don’t get much service at the winery, so Sunday night when I was driving home I was livid because on the one night I got out before 9 PM there was completely stopped traffic leaving Napa. I had never seen anything like it, but eventually we passed some construction so I figured that was why.
The next morning, I woke up to a text from my friend in San Francisco who had messaged me at 12:39 AM saying if I needed to come stay with her I could. She said they were evacuating part of Napa so I guessed there was a fire, but had no idea where it was or how much it had affected at that point. Let alone that there were four others.
On the way to the bathroom I saw that my roommates had the tv tuned into the news station. Sure enough, there was already coverage of it as well as the other fires that had blown up overnight. And they had been up since 3 AM following them when one’s dad had called.
Driving into work my heart sank as I saw the endless orange glow and flames on the hillsides. For those of you who don’t know Napa is only 29 miles long and 5 across, so everything is pretty close to begin with. And being able to see the flames so clearly from the highway I knew they were no joke; one of our worst fears had come to life. Somehow the hills had been ignited and this was happening.
Growing up in Southern California, wildfires were pretty normal to me. I always explained to people in college on the east coast that we didn’t have snow days–we had fire days because the air was too thick with smoke to breathe. And although yes, they’re absolutely horrific for people high up on the mountainsides, usually those down below are saved by our incredible firefighters and first responders.
But this one was different. There wasn’t just one crazy fire they were trying to put out, there were at least five (or 12, as of today) in Napa and the nearby counties they were trying to fight at once. When I went through at 6:30 AM, the power was out at every stoplight. At work we were already on generators and completely without service.
By the end of Monday, whole neighborhoods of Santa Rosa and parts of Napa and Sonoma were gone. With winds whipping all over the place and humidity low, it was a perfect storm and unfortunately many lost their homes within minutes. Tuesday I sat in my room all day, attempting to find some sort of credible information as to where the fires were, who was evacuated and how much damage had occurred but no news source could keep up with it. The combination of the fires’ speed and fact that hardly anyone had service in the valley made it near impossible. Tuesday night however, I got the call from work that power was back on and we were picking tomorrow.
This morning was just as heartbreaking seeing a few flames on the hills, but even more terrifying because by this point everything in the valley is just covered in smoke. You can’t even see all the hills around you let alone be able to tell if the fire is inching toward you or not. It’s beyond eerie. Driving up at 4:30 AM there was a steady stream of cars passing me which I knew had to be more people evacuating–either because it was mandatory or they just didn’t feel safe anymore. By the time I drove home at 6 PM, every other car was filled to the brim with personal belongings.
Everyone I know in this valley has been impacted in some way–whether they’ve had to evacuate, help friend evacuate, lost a home or their whole winery–and it’s devastating in a way I could never have imagined. Although I’ve been here for less than a year, I love this place and the people in it more than words can say. If you’re able to, please consider donating in some way, or offering your assistance to those still in need. With the fires still at 0, 3, and 10% containment, there’s a long way to go until this community can sleep soundly again.
We have firefighters pouring in from all over the country, and can only hope the winds stay down enough they’re able to get the job done. Stay safe and if you are personally affected and there’s anyway I can help, please let me know.