I have never been terribly worried about wildfires impacting Terra Firma’s operations dramatically. Despite our location at the eastern edge of the fire-prone Coast Range, most of our fields, our office, and our packing shed are safely ensconced in a large area of irrigated orchards and other farmland. For a fire to reach us, it would have to burn through several miles of leafy green foliage that is kept hydrated all summer.
By now, you have probably heard that the LNU fire reached Winters in the predawn hours on Wednesday of last week. Just before I went to bed that night, I went outside and could see the glow from the fire burning on the other side of the Blue Ridge mountains to our west. I was concerned, of course, but the fire was still far away. There was no wind to push it towards us.
Around 2 a.m. the power went out and the air conditioning in my house stopped. That, and not the sheriff who had apparently tried to evacuate the small number of residents on our road by going door to door, was what woke me up. When I walked outside I was hit in the face by 100 degree air filled with ash and smoke blown by a stiff wind towards the farm from the area of the fire. Then I saw it.
Writing this now, I still have goose bumps. I could clearly see the fire, just a few miles away and heading directly towards the farm. It was a raging inferno, the flames reaching hundreds of feet in the air. My first concern was that the wind might blow embers far enough to light spot fires around the farm. I went through all the things I would have to do: connect the generator, set up sprinklers around the house, fill buckets of water.
Then, abruptly, the wind shifted from west to north. I heard a distant roar, and watched the fire pour to the south, down a narrow valley west of us called Pleasants Valley where hundreds of people live on small farms, most without irrigation. The fire was moving terrifyingly fast. What also struck me was the absence of sirens. No one was there to fight the fire, or even try.
There was no sleeping the rest of that night, between the heat, the smoke, and the worrying. But soon enough it was time to start the work day. There was no power at the TFF office, so a generator had to be set up and turned on. We were in an evacuation zone, so the road to the farm was closed by the CHP. Our harvest crew took the back way in to arrive at the fields, but we pretty quickly determined it was too smoky to work. Over at the packing shed, we had to transfer the contents of our produce coolers into refrigerated trucks.
Through the rest of the week, we struggled to balance the work that needed to be done with our employees’ health and safety. We checked the air quality every few hours, and let people leave when they felt it was too smoky.
Still. The inconveniences we experienced pale in comparison to the tragedy of the dozens and dozens of our neighbors who lost their homes, livestock, and pets, and barely escaped with their lives. Among them are fellow TFF subscribers, as well as producers who we have featured in our webstore.
The LNU fire ended up becoming the second largest fire in California state history, burning an enormous area between I-80 and Hwy. 20, from the eastern edge of Napa to the western edge of Vacaville, Winters and the Capay Valley. And it is just one of several huge fires started by lightning last week that ravaged Northern California.
2020 has been already been a tough year filled with tragedy and trauma for too many people. I’m just thankful that our farm has so far managed to avoid major damage, and I wanted to let you know that we’re all ok.
We are currently exploring the best ways to help local victims of the LNU fire. We will keep you updated in the next week or two in case you are interested in contributing.