October 11, 2017 - By Kevin Hecteman - Seventeen large wildfires were burning across California on Tuesday; with many of them out of control, farmers and other agricultural professionals said it was far too soon to assess the damage fully.

california farm bureau federation"This is an ongoing emergency situation," Napa County Agricultural Commissioner Greg Clark said Monday. "There's very limited access to the areas that are on fire. I have not heard of any secondhand or firsthand information from anyone that has experienced loss, but it's safe to say that there is loss of woodlands, rangeland, grazing lands (and) in some instances, vineyards."

The primary focus at this point is life and safety, Clark said.

"Once they get the fire under control, then we can start to have a better idea of the impacts on property," he said.

Fires were burning large areas of Napa, Sonoma, Yuba, Mendocino, Lake and Butte counties. Most of them started after 9 p.m. Sunday. At a Tuesday morning news conference, Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott said the fires had burned 115,000 acres during the previous 24 hours, and an estimated 2,000 structures had been destroyed. As of Tuesday afternoon, 15 people had died in the fires.

The two largest fires are the Tubbs Fire in Napa and Sonoma counties and the Atlas Fire in Napa County. Both fires were still out of control on Tuesday afternoon, according to Cal Fire.

Lake County is dealing with the Sulphur Fire, which had burned 2,500 acres and was 10 percent contained as of Tuesday. The fire was mainly affecting the city of Clearlake, said Brenna Sullivan, executive director of the Lake County Farm Bureau.

"We're dealing with a lot of smoke up here, and as we're right in the middle of winegrape harvest, a lot of our growers are having to either delay picking or try to find another home for their winegrapes, if they were planning on sending them down into Napa County," Sullivan said.

In Mendocino County, the Redwood and Potter fires have scorched 19,000 acres, with no containment reported as of Tuesday afternoon.

Devon Jones, executive director of the Mendocino County Farm Bureau, said cellphone and Internet service had been spotty because of damage to communications facilities, so firsthand information is limited. A number of hay barns have been lost, she said.

"We've had reports of vineyards that are completely burnt," Jones said. "We've had reports of vineyards that have been singed and with minor damage. We've had reports of vineyards that are fine."

Jones said a number of winegrapes remain to be picked.

"We weren't through harvest yet, so there is going to be significant impact to some of these vineyards in terms of loss of crop," she said.

With the fire moving toward Willits, cattle may soon be affected, Jones said. A large number of horses in the Redwood Valley area have been displaced.

"We've had some great community support in terms of people volunteering to help with hauling horses or keeping horses," she said. "Both of our fairgrounds are opened up for large-animal evacuation sites."

Service clubs have been stepping up as well, Jones said; the local Elks club provided dinner Monday night, and high schools in Ukiah and Willits have opened as emergency shelters.

"We had strong winds, and there's just fires exploding in a lot of places," said Gary Sack, a California Farm Bureau Federation field representative whose territory includes most of the affected areas.

Sack pointed to the Redwood Complex, the Cal Fire name for the combined Redwood and Potter fires in Mendocino County.

"A lot of structures up there were being burned," "They were trying to save what structures they could."

David Beckstoffer was watching his family's business closely. He has vineyards from St. Helena, at the northern end of the Napa Valley, to Carneros in the south.

"I understand there's a fire right in the Dealy Lane-Henry Road area there, which we have a vineyard very close to," "We've been told our vineyard is fine, but I know the fires are right around there."

Beckstoffer's office in Rutherford was out of danger Monday, but the power was out.

"We're on generator power right now, but we're not being threatened by any flames at this point," he said.

Sonoma County was dealing not only with the Tubbs Fire but also the Nunns Fire, burning in the Sonoma Valley near Glen Ellen. As in Napa County, it was far too soon to know the extent of the damage.

"From what the news is saying, most of the damage is east of us," said Steve Dutton of Graton, president of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau.

"I live 10 miles west of where the fire is," Dutton said. "I can't get to where the fire is."

Grape harvest is Sonoma County is nearly done, he said, with 85 to 90 percent of the crop in.

"There's grapes that have been picked (Sunday), or were picked during the night, while no one knew this was happening, that may or may not be getting delivered," Dutton said.

In Butte County, Colleen Cecil, executive director of that county's Farm Bureau, was hearing reports of cattle ranchers losing seed and hay barns. The county's main wildfires are the Cherokee and La Porte fires.

"I think it's still too soon to determine what damage is," Cecil said, "but I think that feed loss is probably going to be significant."

Just last weekend, Cecil said, the Farm Bureau had hosted the Sierra Oro Farm Trail event; on Monday, she'd learned that some of the farms near the town of Bangor, which had been part of the trail, were forced to evacuate. Cecil also heard from one rancher via text message that "while his house was safe, all of his employee housing had been lost."

Gov. Jerry Brown declared Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties disaster areas Monday; this has since been expanded to include Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada and Orange counties. President Donald Trump approved a major disaster declaration for the state on Tuesday, according to the California Office of Emergency Services.

Existing red-flag warnings were set to expire Tuesday, but the National Weather Service issued new red-flag warnings for the North Bay mountains and the East Bay hills for Wednesday night and Thursday. The NWS forecast calls for northeasterly winds of 15 to 30 mph, with gusts to 45 mph, possibly higher, and humidity of 10 to 20 percent. These conditions mean any fires that develop will spread rapidly, according to the NWS.

(Kevin Hecteman is an associate editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at khecteman@cfbf.com.)
 Reprinted with permission: California Farm Bureau Federation
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