One More Fire

If you get the chance to go wine tasting in Lake County, one thing you can be sure of is that you’ll be greeted by friendly folks and tasty wines all around the county. But if you really listen when you speak with any of us up here in the industry, you’ll notice that the memories of the fires that ravaged our towns still linger. At Six Sigma, we haven’t stopped counting our blessings that our team members and crop made it out unscathed. With so many of our neighbors still rebuilding homes and reviving businesses, we wanted to share the full story of just what happened that day back in September when Valley Fire reared its ugly face:

 

Saturday, September 12, 2015.
IMG_7413-250Wine Club Pick-Up party. Our guests enjoy burgers and sip wine as they exchange fire stories. Many had to evacuate during the two fires in July and August, and some even had to flee a third, smaller fire. During this sunny afternoon, nobody knows that the most dramatic fire stories are yet to come. Before the end of the day, some of the visitors will lose their homes; some will help save lives and property and be hailed as heroes.
1:15 pm. A big plume of smoke rises over the ridge on the south side of the Ranch. Soon, we learn that a fire has erupted on Cobb, and the people living in that direction rush home. The fire is 12 miles away from the Ranch, so we are still feeling safe.
4 pm. Our daughter-in-law, Rachel, drops off our grandkids Caleb (4½) and Elizabeth (2½.) She and our son, Christian, have planned an evening out and, at this point, there doesn’t seem to be any imminent danger.
5-6 pm. I’m home alone with the kids, cooking dinner and occasionally looking at the sky and checking the news. The wind picks up, reminding me of movies of tropical storms.
IMG_7421-2506:37 pm The Sheriff’s Department sends out a Nixle Alert: Roads are closing. Mandatory evacuation of the area around Cobb and, surprisingly, also Hidden Valley Lake – that’s just 3-4 miles away. I call Christian: “Please skip dessert and come pick up the kids. This is getting too close.” As the kids eat dinner, I round up the three cats and pack a few necessities.
7 pm – Everything changes in just 30 minutes. Christian calls back: “The highway is closed for traffic going into the fire area. We are waiting for you at the traffic light in Lower Lake. Thank God we left our Mazda with the kids’ car seats by your house!”
Kids are loaded into car seats, cats are packed into carriers, and carriers are quickly stacked in the back of Christian and Rachel’s Mazda. “I don’t like this,” Caleb says. “What’s wrong with the sky?” Minutes later, as I struggle to figure out how to operate the unfamiliar vehicle, he comments in a very little voice, “I really, really want to go home right now!” 2½ year-old Elizabeth is unfazed by the thick smoke rolling in, mainly concerned with the dessert she had to leave behind.

Monday, September 14.
The immediate fire danger in our area is over, and our fermenting wine needs some attention. We get permission to enter the ranch through a rarely used gate leading to a road that is not affected by the road closures. The power is still out, so the team works hard to transfer wine manually, using buckets and muscle power instead of hoses and electric pumps.driving-in_edited-1

Tuesday, September 15.
The eerie gray smoke is gone. “Look,” Caleb says as he looks at the sky. “The clouds are back!”
Soon, we are allowed to transport a generator into the Ranch and continue our grape harvest.

Friday, September 18. power is back, and two days later roads are open.

 

SixSigmaRanch-2015-FIRES_w copy

Yellow, orange and pink areas show CALFIRE’s fire maps. The contours of the ranch are in the middle

From late July to mid-September, three fires with a total burn area of 170,000 acres closed in on our 4,300-acre ranch from all sides. It feels like a miracle that our vineyards and winery are still intact. It is amazing that we even got to make a “vintage 2015”. Months later, our thoughts and prayers are still with the hundreds of people who lost so much and still have homes to rebuild. As we look out on a dreary, wet January, we pray that abundant rain water will seep slowly into the affected areas, allowing the hillsides to get green again, without causing mudslides and flooding.



Else Ahlmann

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