Rocky Fire Indirectly Closes Two Wineries

Cal Fire detours traffic from Highway 20, access point for small producers

by Kate Lavin
Smoke from the Rocky Fire is visible from a vineyard. Photo: Cal Fire
Clearlake Oaks, Calif.—The Rocky Fire that started July 29 in Lake County expanded in all directions before dawn today. The surge prompted Cal Fire to close Highway 20, which effectively closed two wineries in Clearlake Oaks.

“Even at night this fire is very, very active,” Daniel Berlant, chief of public information for Cal Fire, said this afternoon during a live briefing. “There’s a lot more firefighting left on this fire.”

As the fire expanded east toward California state Highway 16, crews burned swaths of grass, so when flames reached the scorched earth there was nothing left to burn, allowing air tankers time to drop water and reach containment levels of 12%.

Meanwhile, the fire also resumed a dramatic run for the west, prompting evacuation advisories in the communities of Clear Lake and Lower Lake. Berlant said that while ocean breezes would normally push the blaze east, fires of such magnitude (60,000 acres at last count) often create their own weather systems.

“The fire now has grown in several different directions. There’s been a lot of fire activity in the past 24 hours or so,” Berlant said around noon today.

Cal Fire ordered the closure of Highway 20 from New Long Valley Road to Highway 53, cutting off access to 1,400-case Cache Creek Vineyards and 1,000-case Noggle Vineyards and Winery, both in Clearlake Oaks. While the structures themselves may not have received evacuation orders, traffic to and from the wineries has been blocked off.

What about harvest?
Bob Hendrickson, tasting room manager at 25,000-case Brassfield Estate Winery in Clearlake Oaks, said he hasn’t noticed any ash on the vines at the property, which includes 367 acres of vines, and the tasting room remains open.

“We’ve been getting a little smoke in the afternoon,” he said, “but the predominant winds from the west blow all the smoke and ash away.”

Hendrickson said Brassfield Estate plans to start harvesting white varieties between Aug. 12 and Aug. 15, which is a little early compared to previous years.

“I don’t think (the fire) will affect us for any reason whatsoever…unless it blocks out the sun,” he joked.

Debra Sommerfield, president of the Lake County Winegrape Commission, said that winds shifted briefly July 31, causing smoke to linger above much of Lake County before clearing out. However, “Smoke-related impacts to the area’s wine grapes are estimated to be minimal to none,” she said.

“As of mid-day on Monday…no damage to any Lake County vineyards or wineries had been reported.”

Six Sigma and projected containment
Six Sigma Ranch of Lower Lake, Calif., which was evacuated by fire crews July 30, reopened for regular winery operations after a fire break created by five bulldozers stopped the Rocky Fire from marching farther into the ranch. The blaze burned a few acres at the top of the property, about three miles from the company’s vineyard sites.

Cal Fire lists Aug. 10 as the expected containment date for the Rocky Fire. See the latest information from Cal Fire here

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