But long before the word “agritourism” was coined, and for decades before the first winery opened here, people traveled here once a year for something else. They came to blow stuff up.
Many years ago the town elders in their wisdom decided that pyromaniacs and firebugs throughout Northern California were a tourist group ripe for the picking. So Winters allowed civic groups to set up stands selling all manner of incendiary devices banned elsewhere, and police and firefighters looked the other way while people set them off all over town.
Winters has an official fireworks display each year. But the real show is on the streets, in peoples’ backyards and even in parking lots. The unofficial display starts early and goes on well after the official one has ended. Our town is like a war zone every Independence Day. By 10- p.m. many years a thick pall of fog-like smoke fills the streets and air.
This year, about 15 minutes into the official fireworks display, the town was blanketed in smoke as usual. And, just like every year, the boom and red glare of the rockets was joined by the sirens and flashers of fire trucks racing through town to put out the inevitable fires sparked. But it was soon apparent that something big was on fire as pumper trucks from other towns began to race through town. And the smoke smelled different — more like grass burning than sulfur igniting.
A wildfire had started in a campground along Putah Creek just west of town (and our farm). The west wind pushed it towards us, coming especially close to an area in the hills where some of our citrus orchards are located. That area was evacuated.
The next day, the fire was still raging, and by noon the smoke had blanketed the area completely. The war zone theme continued as plane after plane zoomed over us on its way to drop retardant on the blaze.
No one is sure whether fireworks sold in Winters caused the fire, but plenty of people have their suspicions. Our biggest 4th of July fireshow ended up lasting for 5 days. I like fireworks as much as anyone. But it seems to me like it may have been a good idea to put a temporary statewide moratorium on them this year, given the incredibly high risk of fire due to the drought.
Even if it might have a devastating impact on pyrotourism.