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Wildfires Damage California's Wineries


In Northern California today, fire crews got a slight break from strong winds as they battle wildfires in the wine country of Napa and Sonoma counties, north of San Francisco. Crews are also facing tough going against another big fire further north in rural Shasta County. These are just the latest in a series of fires in what is now a historically destructive wildfire year throughout California and the entire West Coast. NPR's Eric Westervelt is following the fires and joins us now with an update.

And, Eric, people know Napa and Sonoma for its famous wineries and its natural beauty, but it's now becoming known for almost its annual devastating wildfires. Give us the latest on what's happening on what's being called the Glass Fire.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Yeah, it is really becoming known for that. I mean, the Glass Fire, Tonya, first began Sunday at around 4 a.m. It's not clear yet what sparked that fire. But three small fires soon merged into one on Monday - one bigger fire. And that was pushed by some strong winds and spread quickly into the hillsides and mountains and vineyards near Calistoga and then made a push toward the city of Santa Rosa in neighboring Sonoma.

Calistoga has about 6,000 residents. They're all under a mandatory evacuation. At least part of Santa Rosa is also under evacuation once again. You know, in all, about 70,000 people have had to flee these latest wildfires. And both of these places - Calistoga, Santa Rosa and other affected areas - you know, they've all faced these evacuations several times over the last few years - in some places, you know, the second time in just...

MOSLEY: Right.

WESTERVELT: ...A few weeks. In 2017, 22 people died in a wildfire that swept into Santa Rosa. So this has become a regular occurrence, something that Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick acknowledged today - you know, what he called significant fire fatigue for the community.


MARK ESSICK: We are nearing the three-year mark of the Tubbs Fire that devastated our community. And this is the fourth major fire in our community since 2017. Many people are feeling the effects. Many people are evacuating. They've evacuated multiple times.

WESTERVELT: So in all, the Glass Fire, Tonya, has already destroyed dozens of homes, as well as some well-known wineries and hotels. It's burned about 40,000 acres. And right now, it is zero percent contained.

MOSLEY: And I mentioned Shasta County. That's further north. The Zogg Fire has also burned about 40,000 acres. That fire, too, is zero percent contained. What's the latest there?

WESTERVELT: Yeah, three people have died in that blaze, bringing the statewide death total from this year - this year's wildfires to at least 29. It's burning in a more rural, heavily forested area. About 1,200 people, at least, have been told to evacuate. And this is very near an area that was badly burned just two years ago in what was called the Carr Fire, another deadly giant wildfire. So like their neighbors to the south, Tonya, many in Shasta have gotten used to sort of packing up and leaving in a hurry.

MOSLEY: Yeah, we know that California Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency in Napa, Sonoma and Shasta counties. As you point out, I mean, megafires are becoming, sadly, the new normal here in California. How are people holding up?

WESTERVELT: Well, it's interesting. I mean, people I've talked with on one level - sort of a superficial level - say it's kind of gotten easier logistically. I mean, you might be better prepared. You've got the go bag. You've got your documents, your pets ready, medications. You have a plan, that kind of thing, but certainly doesn't make it easier. I mean, it's hard to routinize fleeing for your life from yet another megafire. I mean, evacuees talk about how incredibly hard and frustrating it's been...

MOSLEY: Right. Right.

WESTERVELT: ...Especially in this rough year with the pandemic and ongoing economic losses.

MOSLEY: So much.


MOSLEY: That's NPR's Eric Westervelt with the latest on the California wildfires.

Eric, thank you.

WESTERVELT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Eric Westervelt
Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.