Northern California Wildfires Causing Concern for Wine Country

Brian German Industry, Nuts & Grapes

Northern California wildfires have already burned nearly 90,000 acres, a little more than nine months after the area suffered the costliest wildfires in the state’s history.  The wine industry is watching closely as the fires continue to move through Napa, Yolo and Lake counties.  Fortunately, the current wildfires are mostly burning in relatively remote areas and so far, do not represent the same level of devastation seen in October 2017.Northern California Wildfires

The Pawnee fire initially started on June 23 and Cal Fire reports that as of July 3 it has burned close to 15,000 acres, destroying 22 structures.  It is now listed as 80 percent contained thanks in part to lower temperatures and higher humidity.  The County Fire began on June 30 in Yolo County and quickly spread into Napa and Lake counties, prompting evacuations.  The fire has already consumed 70,000 acres and is currently only five percent contained, with significant potential to grow as the fire moves into difficult terrain.

The National Weather Service noted that smoke from the fires was creating poor air quality conditions for Napa, Sonoma, San Mateo and San Francisco counties.  While the fires are not currently threatening vineyards, winemakers are also concerned about the amount of smoke settling in the area.

Grapes in Napa County have yet to go through the ripening process and are a bit more resilient towards the effects of smoke damage, and fortunately, the current position of the fire is downwind from Napa Valley.  There is still concern about shifting winds or the potential for the fire to continue burning as the grapes begin to ripen.

Summers are typically hot and dry in the area, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s U.S. Drought Monitor illustrates even drier conditions than normal for the region.  The current dry conditions are exacerbated by the fact the region only received 70 percent of the average winter rainfall.  The Northern California wildfires are a bit atypical for this time of year, however, fire personnel have noted that overall wildfire activity in the state is already above average for the year.