Anxiety about what will happen in the coming weeks has not escaped President Biden. He announced today that the California Fire Service will generate more revenue. “We are lagging behind and have neglected the firefighting mission,” Biden said. Permanent status will be provided to firefighters who work only during dry seasons.
“Look, that whole ridge is black. We saw fire coming over the mountains, and it glowed all night.” From Shelton Richards’ wineries you see the valley above Napa on three sides, a nice hour’s drive from San Francisco. Several vineyards around Richards caught fire last year. “The fire came from all three sides,” he points out from his terrace. “We are very lucky.”
Fire has become a part of life here, Richards says. In four of the last five summers, there have been fires around his home and business. “After a six-year drought, between 2009 and 2015, withered branches had accumulated in the forest.”
Dozens of people lost their homes in Richards’ neighborhood, and all the memories in it are there. “That’s too bad,” says the brewer. “On top of that, everyone is losing their crop, and so am I,” he says. His vines are still there, but due to smoke damage, the 2020 grapes are no longer used. “The burned vineyards also lost their harvest from previous years, and it was still in the barrels.”
On the road with fire chief Ben Nicholas, it appears that wine growers can also grow themselves for the coming weeks. Generally, the drought and high fire risk season lasts from June to September. “But in recent years, it starts in early April and continues until November or sometimes January,” says Nichols. His men have been put to the test this spring, and the real work has not yet begun.
Climate scientists blame global warming for severe drought, heat and wind. According to Ben Nichols, head of the fire department, this is a situation they do not usually see: