Wildfires ravage Northern California wine country

It has been a harrowing time in the Bay Area and in Napa and Sonoma counties. On Sunday, Oct. 8 a wildfire broke out in Calistoga and quickly grew, fed by 70-mph-winds and fed by tinder dry trees and grasses. Bu 3 a.m. it had swept through urban neighborhoods in Santa Rosa. At the same time, other fires broke out. At one point there were 17 different fires raging in the state. By the time they were put out, about 40 people had died.

I live in Berkeley, so my house was not threatened. (That happened in 1991 when it burned down during the Oakland Hills firestorm.) But my stepbrother lives in Santa Rosa and he got caught in the flames. For 24 hours, my silblings and I did not know what happened to Jim. Those were very tense moments. We finally found him on Tuesday in the ICU Burn Unit in San Jose.

I wrote about Jim, the fires, and what my family experienced in an article in The Daily Beast. Please read it here.

Around 20 or so wineries were destroyed or severely damaged in the fires, which consumed 105,000 acres in Napa and Sonoma counties. The images of burned tasting rooms, cracked wine barrels, and shattered bottles were heartbreaking. But I knew from my research for Tangled Vines that the story of wine in California is very much a story of fire and wine. So I wrote a story for The Daily Beast that highlights three episodes of fire and wine since 1862.

The headquarters of the California Wine Association after the earthquake and fire. Photo: California Historical Association

There is the story of Mark Anderson, of course, who is the center of my book. His arson fire destroyed 4.5 million bottles of wine worth $250 million. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire was much more destructive, of course. That conflagration ruined 10 to 15 million gallons of wine, about 60 to 75 million bottles.  You can read that Daily Beast story here.

Update: My stepbrother Jim is doing well, all things considered. He has had two surgeries to help his burns and is making progress everyday.

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  1. mary ragsdalw on October 22, 2017 at 8:33 pm

    Hi Frances, I have read and enjoyed your book Tower Of Gold. I actually heard about it on a tv show that I was watching a few years ago. I love the history of California. I gave the book to my sister to read. She really enjoyed reading it.
    Recently she was at the Rains House and saw that you had written a book about it as well. We saw that it was related to your first book through your ggggrandfather. She told me about the book and we both got a copy.
    We are reading them right now.
    I just wanted to let you know , we are big fans of yours and hope things work out for your family during these dreadful fires.

  2. mary ragsdale on October 22, 2017 at 8:35 pm

    Glad to find your blog, will follow.

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