Historic wildfires decimated over 200,000 acres in Northern California’s Wine Country leaving 40 people dead and destroying over 5700 structures in its path.
A week later there are some areas that are still threatened, but Napa Valley officials are seeing the new week as a desire to create a new normal.
“Today is a completely different day,” said Napa County Supervisor, Belia-Eugenia Ramos. “We are switching from emergency life-saving mode to recovery mode.”
In the days, ahead residents of Napa and County counties will be trying to put their lives back together. For some it will be a short turn around and for others who lost everything a much longer road.
Congressman Mike Thompson announced at a Napa Community Meeting yesterday afternoon that funding and grants are on their way to assist those in the rebuilding phase and repopulating areas. Go to www.disasterassistance.gov.
Beginning today, the county of Napa is opening up a local assistance center that will include federal state, non-profit, mental health and recover resources. The LAC will be located at the Health and Human Services Campus, 2751 Napa Valley Corporate Drive, Building A, Conference center. Hours: 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. Monday – Friday and 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
According to CalFire Chief Barry Bierman, the Atlas Peak Fire, which has consumed more than 51,000 acres on the eastern hills of Napa Valley is no longer advancing and is 68-percent contained. He said their focus and resources is now to attack the Nunns Fire on the west side, which is still advancing.
“Our job is to get ahead of the fire and create barrier lines,” he said. “Our biggest challenge is keeping the fire out of the canyons by Dry Creek because it would be too dangerous for our crews go in there.”
The Nunns Fire is now a combination of five fires including the original Partrick/Carneros Fire, which started on the night of October 8. It has consumed 47,000 acres to date and is 50-percent contained. Chief Bierman is predicting a few more days on the west side before the fire will stop advancing.
“This was an unprecedented fire because of the high winds and low humidity made it a difficult fire to control in the beginning,” said Bierman. “The fire grew so quickly. The rate of spread at the beginning was 200-feet per second.”
Lessons learned during this disaster is sometimes one has to rely on old fashion communications according to Supervisor Ramos.
“We found out that we can’t always rely on our cell phones,” she said. “We are thankful for our local radio station who helped keep us informed when communication was lacking.”
More than 75 cell phone towers perished in the fast-moving fires and 25,000 Napa homes were without power leaving many residents without the ability to communicate with the outside world and even amongst themselves. A cell receiving spot was golden in the early days of the fire and cars would line a road so people could contact friends and love ones and let them know that they were okay. Social media also became the mode of communication where people could give updates on their status since calling in and calling out was a challenge. Utility companies worked around the clock and a week later most power has been restored and cell towers rebuilt.
It was the lack of phone and internet service that closed many Napa businesses during the first week of the fire. Plus, many businesses had employees that have been evacuated.
The good news for the Valley floor was the grape vines were credited as a fire barrier keeping the fire from spreading across the valley maintaining the fire in the hills on both sides of the valley. The Atlas Peak fire did claim five wineries including the scenic Signorella Estates and 11 other wineries received some damage.
Many of the mandatory evacuations are beginning to be lifted in Napa Valley, but officials, cautious residents returning to their homes. Extensive road work and infrastructure rebuilds are needed in parts of the county.
“Down trees or damaged trees need to be removed,” said Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillion. “We have to restore every sign on every road that was damage or it’s not safe. Power poles need to be replaced. We also have to make sure where we still have First Responders that there is little traffic as possible. We ask for everyone’s patience still while we rebuild.”
Air Quality will continue to be an issue and that can change hour to hour depending on the weather and winds according to Dr. Karen Relucio. She suggests staying indoors with the windows and doors shut is the best way to avoid smoke filled lungs. If one does have to go outside a mask is helpful, but will not keep all the toxins out if the mask is not properly fitted. The county is expecting to get 50,000 masks to arrive this week and will make them available to all Napa County residents.
Any residents returning to their wildfire damaged property are reminded that sifting through ash for valuables can have long term health hazards. Wear clothes that covers your body, wear thick boots and gloves. Don’t remove large debris as that could release toxins into the air. Don’t touch propane tanks or batteries. Look for hidden holes you may fall into. Dangerous ash can be on toys and items. Never use a blower to get rid of ash
Finally, a little trivia: Phil and Patsy Hahn celebrated their 66th Wedding Anniversary while staying in a shelter. The youngest evacuee was 29-days old.
Anyone wishing to support a Disaster Relief Fund, cash donations and $25 Visa/Mastercard gift cards are being accepted by Napa Valley Community Foundation, www.napavalleycf.org.