Ventura County Wildfire Keeps Growing

Thomas Fire approaching one winery, while another sees property damage

by Jane Firstenfeld
wine  vineyard central coast california thomas fire
The Santa Ana Winds are expected to pick up tonight, fanning the flames of several fires in Southern California.

Ventura County, Calif.—Fast-moving wildfires sparked Monday evening in Ventura County have now engulfed more than 100 square miles. By Wednesday morning, flames had consumed 150 structures, broached the busy Highway 101 and reached the Pacific Ocean.

The Thomas Fire started inland but quickly moved westward, fueled by Santa Ana winds reaching 70 miles per hour. The winds inhibited fire crews’ aerial drops of water and fire retardants.

Ventura County is home to 53 wineries, most of them with smaller production of less than 10,000 cases per year. Jill Siple of Rincon Mountain Winery said Wednesday that the fire was approaching the winery in Ventura, Calif. The family-owned winery produces 1,000 cases per year, according to Wines Vines Analytics.

Joe Boccali, who owns 1,500-case Boccali Vineyards and Winery in Ojai, Calif., with his brother, told Wines & Vines on Tuesday that although the winery is still standing, “I’ve had a lot of better days. Everything’s on fire.”

Boccali was in downtown Ventura when his brother called around 6 p.m. Monday, when the fire erupted. He raced back to the winery, and the two brothers put sprinklers on the winery roof. Some harvest bins outside the building were burned, but the structure remained safe, he reported.

County firefighters brought in bulldozers to clear dangerous debris. “In the last 30 years, we’ve had some bad fires,” Boccali said. This time, “We didn’t evacuate because we wanted to save our stuff. No one was in harm’s way.”

A massive haystack used as feed for cattle on the property was destroyed, but the bovine population remained calm, and the vineyards were unscathed.

Boccali said he is keeping the barrel cellar sealed to avoid smoke taint to the 100% estate-grown wines that are aging in oak. The Boccali tasting room in downtown Ojai closed for the season at Thanksgiving.

Fire report
Ventura County “never really got out of the drought this year. It’s been super dry with no humidity,” Boccali observed.

Indeed, Capt. Steve McLean with CalFire reported that humidity in Southern California is around 8% and dropping. “Any new ember will start a fire” in these conditions, he said during the Fire Situation Report broadcast by the state agency today.

Winds continue to reach 40 to 60 miles per hour, and McLean said the strongest gusts will start early tomorrow. “We want the public to know that under these kinds of conditions, the fire will spread very rapidly to any fuel such as vegetation.”

During the past 24 hours, additional fires have erupted closer to the Los Angeles metro area. Business mogul Rupert Murdoch's Moraga Estate winery and vineyard were threatened by the Skirball Fire, which is burning between the tony Bel Air neighborhood and Getty Museum.

Murdoch released the following statement: "The situation at Moraga Bel Air is ver fluid at the moment. The property was evacuated, but based on what we are seeing on TV, there may be damage to some buildings in the upper vineyard area. We believe the winery and house are still intact."

The 7,000-acre Rye Fire and 11,377-acre Creek Fire also are actively burning in Los Angeles County.

Kate Lavin contributed to this story.


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