Friday, May 30, 2008

After the fire

Now that the fire is all but out I decided to take a drive down to see how bad things are. It looks pretty simple on the map - just take 17 south, come off at the Summit Road exit and head south.

Unfortunately what Google Maps doesn't show you is that once you go past Highland Way and on to Loma Prieta Avenue the road turns into a Rally Cross off-road stage. Where there is a proper road surface it's pitted with potholes the size of gallon saucepans, but mostly it's just compacted dirt criss-crossed by dried up rivulets and covered with pointy looking stones. For the first time in my life I wished that I owned a 4WD SUV.

For a long time the only signs that there has even been a fire are the hand written signs saying "THANK YOU, FIRE FIGHTERS" (of which there are many) or the more professional banners promoting upcoming fundraising events. Then suddenly you round a bend and you see the unreal hellscape of a mountain side dotted with the burned stumps of Madrone trees. The road ahead was blocked by a temporary barrier and I could hear the sounds of heavy machinery, presumably clearing the burned remains of trees from the roadway. I took some photos and turned the car around. To the right was an area that had been bulldozed, presumably as a firebreak and staging area. There were small heaps of charred logs and a CDF official taking a break. He told me that he had been there all week, since the start. Everything is now under control; the only major concerns are for underground hot spots that could suddenly flare up again.

On the way back I passed several large houses, at least three of which had small vineyards installed. I called in at Burrell School and asked how they had got on. They were maybe 5 miles from the fire, but fortunately the wind was blowing in the opposite direction so they weren't in any real danger. Mark, the Vineyard Manager pointed at the hillside across the road, bare of trees - it had burned in the big fire of 1985. I asked if he'd heard of any other vineyards affected by the fire, but he wasn't aware of any.

I'd been wondering about the longer term effect of the fire on the grapes that were in flower, but everyone I've spoken to says there shouldn't be any lasting impact. There has been some soot and ash in the vineyards, particularly downwind in Corralitos at places like Windy Oaks and Woodruff, but nothing serious; no more than the amount of dust that would get kicked up by a tractor. Any significant pH changes in the soil can be corrected.

So hopefully everything is back to normal, just in time for the Vintners Festival the next two weekends. And I'd like to echo the sentiments of the people on Summit Road - a heartfelt THANK YOU FIRE FIGHTERS.