California Wildfire Ravaging Picturesque Wine Country Towns

Embers fly from a tree as the Glass Fire burns in St. Helena, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

(CN) — The Glass Fire continues to burn out of control in the heart of California’s wine country, razing wineries, destroying houses and prompting mass evacuations.

Fire officials said Thursday that the fight will only get more difficult as high winds are expected to ramp up in the evening and continue throughout much of the day on Friday.

“There is a lot of fire activity toward Angwin in Napa County,” said Tyree Zander, a firefighter with Cal Fire.

Angwin is a small town of about 3,000 people in the northeastern part of Napa County. It is not located in the famed Napa Valley draped with vineyards but is a small college town, home to Pacific Union College.

“The fire is impinging on the outskirts of that community,” said Mark Burton, a fire chief with Cal Fire.

The fire has already ripped through several legacy wineries in the Up Valley area of the Napa Valley near Calistoga.

Napa Valley’s famous wine grapes sit unharvested and charred on the vine after the Glass Fire tore through the region. (Courthouse News photo / Matthew Renda)

At least 19 wineries, resorts and restaurants have been destroyed by the Glass Fire which started last weekend and has grown steadily due to the combination of higher temperatures, low humidity and wind activity.

Meadowbrook restaurant, located near the Howell Mountain Road on the eastern flank of Napa Valley burned to the ground. A security guard working the property confirmed the restaurant is gone, along with several other buildings on the property.

The Chateau Boswell, another famed winery, was one of the first to burn during the Glass Fire. Firefighters are now concentrating their fight on the outskirts of Angwin and Calistoga, which is at the northern end of Napa Valley, referred to as Up Valley by locals.

Mark Burton, a chief with Cal Fire, said the fire is not threatening downtown Calistoga at this point, but some structure in the outer laying parts of the town remain under imminent threat.

Calistoga is a small but picturesque city of about 5,000 and remains a ghost town, with mandatory evacuations continuing to remain in place.

The Calistoga Ranch, a luxury resort in the area, has been badly damaged already, with pictures emerging of charred picnic tables and crumbling rubble where the five-star resort once stood.

California Governor Gavin Newsom toured some of the destruction Thursday, meeting with Cal Fire Director Thom Porter at the blackened remains of the Foothills Elementary School near St. Helena, in the middle of Napa Valley.

“I’ve got four young kids in elementary school, and I can’t imagine for the parents what’s going on in their minds, with all the anxiety going into the school year, to see their precious school burned down,” Newsom said.

The charred remains of a home in California Wine Country. (Courthouse News photo / Matthew Renda)

Newsom met with fire officials and lawmakers to discuss the importance of vegetation work aimed at preventing massive wildfires like the Glass Fire or any of the more than 30 major fires that have burned up and down the state during California’s historic wildfire season.

“We’ll continue our aggressive, without precedent, historic forest and vegetation management efforts (that) we’ve substantially increased in the last two years and we will increase them more into the coming years,” Newsom said.

So far, more than 4 million acres of land have burned in the summer and fall of 2020. The previous record was about 1.4 million acres.

California has also summoned about 20,000 firefighters to fight the spate of wildfires throughout the state, calling in firefighters from Texas, Montana and Israel.

The Glass Fire is currently at about 56,000 acres and is 5% contained.

While much of the activity is in Napa, fire officials are also concerned about communities in neighboring Sonoma County, where the Glass Fire threatens Kenwood and Glen Allen.

Cal Fire conducted a firing operation, where they purposefully set fire to undergrowth in the past couple of days when the wind was down hoping to stop the march of the fire when the wind picks up Thursday evening.

“I have about a 50 percent confidence the line on top of the ridge will hold,” Burton said.

If it doesn’t Kenwood and Glen Allen will burn.

However, the communities of Oakmont and Santa Rosa — the large North Bay city that was devastated by the Wine Country Fires in 2017— look to be safe from any immediate fire danger, Burton said.

The Zogg Fire, farther north in Tehama County, is also burning at about 55,000 acres, but firefighters have made significant inroads at containment as it is currently listed at 25%.

“Firefighters had a very successful night that increased containment of the fire with minimal growth,” Cal Fire said in its morning update.

Other fires like the Creek Fire, the August Complex and the North Complex continue to burn but do not present an immediate danger to houses and businesses at present.

The red flag warning, meaning high temperatures, low humidity and high wind gusts, will remain in effect in Sonoma and Napa Counties until Friday at 6 p.m.

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