Reading news articles and watching film clips of both the #SonomaFire and the #NapaFire tells only one part of the story, over the last few weeks I found myself more drawn to social media – and especially to posts from friends – to grasp the full weight of what has happened.
One such friend, Gary Warburton – the white winemaker at Calistoga’s Phifer Pavitt and one of the first winemakers I ever met – was doing frequent updates as he, his wife Terry, his son Shane and daughter-in-law Suzanne and their children were surrounded by fires. I asked Gary if I could share his accounts, and he agreed.
So from beginning to end:
October 9, 1:36 AM: Fire seems to be everywhere. Entire hill between us and Santa Rosa ablaze. We are fine for now. Wind blowing away.
10:57 AM: …We have been up since 11:30 last night watching the hills burn all around us. Our fire started about 5 miles northwest at Tubbs and 128 and burned all the way over the hill to Santa Rosa taking many many homes, Safari West, and even possibly some of the kids high school. We watched it all morning just behind Chateau Montelena. If it had turned south we would have evacuated. Calistoga Fire looks controlled. Now Santa Rosa and Atlas Peak are ablaze. The kids and grandkids have been texting all night and many of their friends have lost entire homes. We appear to have dodged the worst.
2:45 PM: We are all safe here but stranded. Can’t leave in any direction. All electrical in both Calistoga and St Helena is out but for some unknown reason we have power at house and winery. We will stay on alert all night due to the forecast of wind direction change. Note: the Cavalry has arrived.
5:44 PM: Calistoga/Napa/Santa Rosa fire update. As predicted the wind has reversed and now we here at the Winery are covered with thick smoke. Visibility is less than 1000 feet. Not evacuating yet. The photo normally features a beautiful view of the valley.
October 10, 6:34 PM: Fire update. All of us here at the winery are safe at this time. A flare up just occurred on the ridge about 5 miles west and we have been watching a constant water bombing by 747s for the past hour. We will spend a vigilant night. The other six fires from Napa City to Santa Rosa are still all out of control. Our kids and grandkids all have close friends that have lost homes. More than a dozen to now. They also lost a great deal of their high school. Night for now.
October 11, 9:38 PM: We spent a vigilant night in shifts watching for flare ups in a hot spot a few miles west of our hillside location.
All is quiet now due to light or no wind. However, Cal-Fire expects 20 mph wind later today with higher gusts so Much of Calistoga has been evacuated and the remainder on evacuation alert. We are just outside or perhaps out of sight of the evacuation area so we are sitting tight but have a definite retreat planned if we see flames crest the ridge behind the winery. We are currently in heavy smoke and ash which is preventing the huge 747 tankers from making their drops but they are in the air ready to provide support. I’ll report again later today.
1 PM: Update from the Pavitts; at 3:15am this morning, Evacuation Notices were issued to Calistoga – up to Solage (1 mile away). The Tubbs Fire is the most immediate threat at Mt. St. Helena. However, all fires around us are still raging. We are at the edge of the Mandatory Calistoga evacuation. If we leave, we cannot get back in. Presently we are holding and we have assumed a defensive position.
The Firefighter ground crews have been battling all night. We need the ‘air cavalry’. Visibility & air quality is very poor right now. Praying for visibility to clear just enough that the Air Tankers can arrive.
Winds are rumored to create a ruckus from 5:00pm today thru 10:00am Thursday.
5:00 PM: Thank you for your calls, emails, texts and prayers! Currently, our family, our Team, our Home and our Winery are safe and unscathed.
It has been a harrowing few days. We are taking shifts sleeping. Our position in Calistoga has us flanked by fires to the North, West and South. After 2 days, we still have ZERO fire containment. The smoke is VERY thick and difficult to breathe. Ash has been raining down throughout Calistoga.
Air quality reports have reached the Dangerous air level. We are wearing bandanas and remaining indoors.
The boys lost their high school and SO many of our friends have lost their homes, wineries & vineyards. Many are still in harms way with the fires raging throughout Napa and Sonoma Counties.
The weather reports are not favorable, with forecasts of increased winds this evening.
We are numb with fatigue, fear and disbelief but we are safe, together and blessed beyond measure.
Thank you for your offers to help. At this point, please just keep praying for the safety of human life, our Firefighters and Emergency personnel and for containment of the widespread fires.
We will provide situation updates as they become available and time permits.
5PM: We are still under mandatory evacuation but are holding out for a bit trying to wet down the winery and house. As you can see by my photo the closest hot spot is gaining in intensity. It’s about five miles at most. We can’t see flames yet but imagine it’s only a matter of time. We will not risk staying much longer since we know the original flare up on Sunday traveled at 1 mile every 50 SECONDS…I’m off to wet things down. Promise to report late tonight.
11 PM: We are under mandatory evacuation as of 3:00pm. We wet down house and winery, put equipment away from buildings, riddled the Sparkling and evacuated at 6:00pm. Wind was only 2-3 mph and in a direction away from property. The kids decided to stay a bit longer. Wind decreased. Outlook good. As of this report the wind is still almost zero and the fire hot spots are burning away from the winery. Next report in the morning.
October 12, 7 AM: Time for a North Bay wildfires update from my perspective…Can’t say I wasn’t a very worried grandmother as I was leaving my kids and grandkids behind (at their insistence) to hold the fort, stay strong and fight Mother Nature. At 5:42 am we received an update from them that they had been vigilant throughout the night and as of now, house and winery are still standing with no damage. Thank you so very much for all your good thoughts and prayers, it looks like He was listening. We cannot thank enough the first responders who so tirelessly worked on all of our behalf. Even the stern sheriff that insisted we leave “right now!” Before we left the property, Gary and I each took a hose and sprayed the winery from top to bottom as the kids were doing the same for the house. They took shifts again last night to watch for any flare-ups or trespassing embers and were rewarded this morning to see that all is well. Thank you God. I don’t think we will be allowed back to Calistoga today, but hopefully tomorrow.
P.S. The video below only shows a few seconds of our escape. It doesn’t show the traffic we hit at the south end of the Valley where Hwy 29 and Hwy 12 meet. Cars and buses were merging together from Napa and Sonoma and it was crazy. We had plenty of time to call three different hotels to finally find one who had ONE room available in San Ramon (an hour and a half drive from Calistoga). Once we arrived, we were turned away because they had overbooked – there were five other families who had evacuated from the Valleys who were being disappointed at the same time we were. Back into the car to call another three hotels until we found one in Pleasanton where we landed a room right on the fwy (with all the fwy noise you would expect), and I slept like a baby for seven hours straight. Heaven! Sitting here now, I can’t believe I slept through the noise. Lol!
P.S.S. For those of my Facebook friends who remember Mango, our beautiful Blue and Gold Macaw, she apparently has been spared from the fire, as all of the animals at Safari West have been. The owner of the animal sanctuary, where we gave up our girl, saved all of his animals with a garden hose and perseverance. According to reports, he lost his home though. So the next time you are visiting the Napa or Sonoma Valley, plan on a visit to the sanctuary to show your support of such determination and love.
9 AM: Phifer Pavitt Winery survived the night of mandatory evacuation. The forecasted high winds did not blow and the hot spot that caused our evacuation moved away from Calistoga. We will remain vigilant. The fires are still out of control in the area but today should see some containment. Sidebar: what do you pack in your car when mandatorily ordered to evacuate? Personal business papers? Family photographs? Clean underwear? Well the only thing “I” packed were the 10000 labels for my Sparkling Wine. Stay tuned for afternoon report.
6 PM: The winery is not in immediate danger due to the favorable SW wind at only 4mph blowing fire away. However, the fire blew back over to the SW of Hwy 29 about 5 miles to the NW of the winery. Since the terrain is not defendable by man or engine our last crew on the property evacuated after again soaking the house and winery. So as of tonight our entire family is off the property and personally safe. Terry and I are in a hotel in Pleasanton and the kids and grandkids are with friends in west Santa Rosa. We will all meet tomorrow in Mendocino area to sit out the rest of this ordeal. Thank you ALL for your thoughts and prayers.
October 13, 6 PM: Good news to this point. Of course the worst of the remaining Tubbs Fire is still only a few miles behind the winery but the wind has stayed light and our skeleton crew managed a quick look at our wine. All is fine. Praying that the expected 20-40 mph wind does not materialize tonight. We are all on our way to Mendocino via “Chateau Jordan” where we are being hosted tonight.
Totally bummed that we just heard that the home of Charles Schulz along with all memorabilia was burned to the foundation. The Schulz legend is steeped here in Santa Rosa.
I’ll report tomorrow morning. Positive thoughts for a windless night.
October 14, 8 AM: The Tubbs Fire (our fire) after a somewhat calm night is now 45% contained. We are still under a “red flag” warning until, most likely, tomorrow morning. This will mean our mandatory evacuation may last until Monday or longer. Our winery as well as all others in Calistoga seems to be out of immediate danger. However, containment is not “control” and if the winds materialize the flames can travel at more than a mile every 50 seconds. We all remain patient and vigilant.
Since we can’t return now we are headed a few miles west to the beach in search of clean air…
8 PM: Calistoga is still under mandatory evacuation. Red flag fire warnings are still posted. Close friends who have eyes on the fire say that the Tubbs Fire behind our winery occasionally flares up but the winds have cooperated and the Cal-Fire crews have made great progress. We are blessed with friends offering sanctuary and are currently at Irish Beach with hopes of an advisory of repopulation soon. When this advisory comes we expect another day or two before it becomes effective. This may be a fantasy but we hold out hope. Sitting here totally out of danger and as a family we reflect on all our friends who have lost their homes and wineries. A sad day indeed. And the danger continues.
October 15, 10 AM: Preliminary and unofficial word is that the night was calm on our fire site. Firefighters on foot attacked the Mt St Helena area at its peak cutting fire breaks at the 4000ft plus level. Apparently the nighttime temperatures and humidity affords better chances of containment. Our “scouts” report that they are attempting to legally re-enter the winery to care for our wine on a temporary basis. We are insisting that all of our family and employees take no action that would either endanger themselves, hamper fire fighting, or ignore any official mandates. At the present, officially all road closures remain in effect and all evacuation orders stand firm. I’ll keep you posted on current events. We are hopeful that our evacuation orders will be able to be lifted soon. And to report on our wine all I can say is that we are very fortunate to be in a period between harvests and at the present all of our wine is safe and happy. Updates to follow, as we as a family are in retreat on the Mendocino coast in fresh air. We only wish that all of our friends could have been this fortunate. Our prayers go out to those who weren’t. We are patiently waiting until we can return so we can be of greater help.
6 PM: The Tubbs Fire (our fire) is over 60% contained. Calistoga City was repopulated as of 2:00pm today. However, we are about .6 miles outside the city limits so we are waiting for the OK to return from the county. Our staff was able to get a County Ag permit to return to do winery business. We are spending one more night here in Mendocino and will return tomorrow. Afternoon: our Cab is scheduled to be harvested Wednesday and that should be good timing as long as the current progress against the fires remains constant. One more night for us should calm our nerves along with…Dark’n Stormys.
October 15, 8AM: Calistoga Fire Report, Tubbs Fire. 70% contained. We are packing to return…for now I must mention that close to 10,000 fire fighters from as far away as Australia who have tirelessly fought against what the fire Captains have called a “career” fire. Amazing that fire fighters rallied from all around the nation. Last note this morning: while sitting at the winery on Tuesday late afternoon the parade of tanker planes attacking the flames looked like the landing pattern on a busy night at LAX.
October 16, 6:00PM: Home again. All intact and we are exhausted. The past 5 days of exile have been brutal but nothing compared to those who lost homes, schools, business, and loved ones. All fires now seem to be manageable but will cover the Napa and Sonoma Valleys with smoke for days to come. Our drive home forced us to drive south of Sonoma where we saw that the fire was stopped only by a few vineyards and the San Francisco Bay. It started north/west of our winery and traveled 31 miles to Carneros and the Bay devastating huge parts of both Napa and Sonoma Counties. Total acres burned approach 200000 or 315 sq. miles. The city of San Francisco is about 48 sq. miles and NYC is 304 sq. miles. Gives us some prospective of this firestorm’s wrath. This will be my last post as long as the fire continues to burn out. One Cal Fire Chef noted that most firefighters will see only one “career” fire in a lifetime. He said there were 5 career fires in this inferno. Thank you all for all your wonderful thoughts and prayers.