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The Hennessey Fire on Soda Canyon Road
from Shelle's house looking north from the end of SCR 8/18/20 3:40pm
Aug 19, 2020
LNU Lightning Complex Fire on 8/19/20 click map for latest
The Hennessey Fire began on at 6:40am on Aug 17, 2020 near the intersection of Hwy 128 and Hennessey RIdge Road, adjacent the reservoir that gave the fire its name. It merged with other fires started by the same lightning storm to become the (too generically-named) LNU (Lake-Napa Unit) Lightning Complex Fire. It should really be named for another body of water: The Barryessa Fire, the lake that the fires are slowly encircling, to become possibly the largest fire in Napa's history, consuming the edges of the city of Vacaville as it does so.
The Economist gives a shoutout to the fire preparedness of CIrcle Oaks (with a mention of Larry Carr and crew). Unfortunately the article is buried behind a paywall. In the Sept 12-18 2020 print edition the article is titled "Learning to live with it". (more here)
Photo: Hardy Wilson/The Guardian
Dan Mufson forwards this article written and photographed by Hardy Wilson:
8/21/20 The Fire at Circle OaksCircle Oaks, the compact ruralcommunity of 180 homes often at the forefront of conservation issues in the County, seems to have resisted the siege of the fire. It was very ominious, but as of the afternoon of 8/21/20 things are looking better.
CO made it thru the night, but still not out of woods. Winds supposed to come up again and still lots of hot spots everywhere surrounding us. And the forecast Sun-Tues is more lightning storms and winds. We're in for it again....
Sadly, Jim and Leonore Wilson lost their house. I just talked to Jim and he's staying strong. Amazing.
Larry stayed behind along with two other neighbor FF's, so I've got the best source ?. I just talked to him and he said we're surrounded by fire, but the fire breaks are working so far. A strike team arrived today which was a relief because this morning he told me he didn't believe any help was coming. They were sent out into the surrounding area to work the fire but they're supposed to come back if they're needed for structure protection
He said we should be fine tonight as long as the wind doesn't come up. There's no wind right now, but I dread a Vacaville scenario. Are u looking at maps and figuring CO is a goner? Or did someone say something?
I learned in 2017 that none of the maps are very accurate. People were freaking that CO was burning and it wasn't.
Keep your fingers and toes crossed for us tonight.
Also a Napa County WIldfire Assistance Center is now open to support people affected by the fire. The notice is here
8/25/20As of 8/25/20 the power at the end of Soda Canyon Road is still off. The PG&E map shows an outage cone spreading from a point on Atlas Peak Road which seems to imply that the 4 properties at the end of the gravel road, and perhaps more, get their power from Atlas peak road rather than Soda Canyon Road.
Access to the latest PG&E power outage map is here: https://m.pge.com/#outages Type in "3360 soda canyon road" under "Search and Report Outage". You can be sent an email when service is restored.
I went to the Manfree's on Monday. Amber and the rest of the family are there cleaning up trees that had toppled after the fires. The fire burned patches all around the house and burned up the pool house. Other structures, the water tank and solar collectors were untouched.
Atlas Peak behind their house looked like this:
The house next door to the north, tragically, was completely burned:
Last night's Red Flag Warning, at least on Soda Canyon Road, proved to be anticlimactic (and anticlimatic?). A couple of flashes in the far southwest early in the evening. No wind gusts, perfectly calm morning. Much better to be prepared than not, however. More fires will come.
The LNU Complex fire around Atlas Peak seems almost completely contained, but a change in the winds could reignite it at any time. Despite the benign look of the ridge during the day, four days after the passage of the fire, small fires, visible through the night, still burn in the trunks of trees.
A reminder from your friendly Soda Canyon Fire Safe Council...
Thunderstorms are anticipated to develop Sunday, evening through Monday morning. Lightning will likely spark new fires across the region, including remote areas. Wildfires in remote regions may not become apparent until warmer and drier conditions allow them to grow. Erratic gusty outflow winds may result in dangerous and unpredictable fire behavior. Please remain vigilant and alert.
A Red Flag Warning means that weather conditions are occurring or will occur that can contribute to extreme fire behavior. Any fires that develop have potential to spread rapidly.
There are still no evacuation advisories in effect within the city limits of Calistoga. Stay tuned to Nixle for further information.
Stay safe. Stay alert. Wear your mask!
Further information may be obtained from the National Weather Service: https://www.weather.gov/mtr/
Fuel up your car
Point your car away from your home. Where are your keys??
Unlock your gate, or open your gate
Detach your garage door from the automatic control mechanism
Cycle and test your generator
Flush your water systems, (run the water), test hoses and make sure you have 100’ of hose available at your home
Clear off deck and porch of flammable material; cushions and furniture
Remove material up against your home, like brooms leaning on the wall or garbage bins
Check gutters and roof for debris
Pull barbeque and propane tank away from your home (30’) or more
Close doors and windows
Place your go-bag at your front door, or in your car. Attach evacuation tag to go-bag and place tag on your gate as you leave, if ordered to evacuate
Charge your phone, and charge your spare battery source. LEAVE YOUR PHONE ON NEXT TO YOUR BED, PLUGGED IN, WITH RINGER ON!
Have a ready to use and powerful LED flashlight with extra batteries
Have a crank-up radio. Know how to tune in 1440 AM and 99.3 FM for emergency information. Pre-tune your car radio to these stations as well
Do not do yard work after 10AM
Do not use metal blade power tools on grass
Do not park your recently operated car over dry seasonal grass
Do not open burn
If you are pulling a trailer, check the equipment, chains and tires. Metal on pavement is a great source of sparks and we have several wildland fires that have started this way
Please be safe, wear your face covering, wash your hands and watch your physical distancing.
Good news to report: I had a very good conversation with station Captain Tony Martinez on Engine 25 out of the Monticello station this morning around 7:30am when he and his heroic 3-engine crew (led by an incredible battalion chief named Jake Mceown (sp?) who truly saved our bacon up here - I can explain more sometime later) were heading down the mountain to get a day of rest after more than 2 FULL days on duty up here. Tony informed me that the "plan" I described last night was a success!
That is, CalFire (1) successfully put in dozer lines all the way from Circle Oaks/121 to the southeast of Atlas Peak, through Foss Valley (existing vineyard/dirt roads/fire breaks excepted), and connected with additional dozer lines at Sage Canyon /Chappellet/Pritchard hill, and (2) "backfired" EVERYTHING (i.e., all of the remaining wildland) above/north of those lines. In short, it appears that they have the fire effectively contained up here. For those up here currently, yes, there are some pretty big flames still raging along the very northwestern edge of Stagecoach (i.e. the ridgeline that ties in with Chappellet/Pritchard Hill), but it is my understanding that that is part of the "backfire" plan and within the planned/dozed fire lines. And, while Tony and the other local fire crews are off today, there are other engines and some helicopters up here keeping an eye on things in case things go haywire. To that end, the winds, although calm now, could always change and the fire could get away from the crews. However, a great weight was lifted off my shoulders after speaking with Tony early this am and I feel pretty darn good about things up here at the moment. Lets keep our thoughts and prayers going that the news up here stays good, as there are a lot of other folks around northern California who are in much worse shape than we are and desperately need the resources that are still currently dedicated up here.
As a heads up, I am probably heading back to Reno later today/this evening to catch up on several pressing "work work" matters and to see my beautiful wife and kids, so I will not be able to personally report first hand/on site information. However, I will do my best to stay in touch with Tony and others up here and keep everyone informed as necessary.
Thank you everyone for your well wishes, hard work and dedication to this incredibly special place we have in Soda Canyon/Atlas Peak/Foss Valley. It was once again a team effort from all players: Evil Knievel, Glenn Salva, Paul Keyzers, Brian ??, Derns, Choppings, Debra Manfree, Todd Adams, Tarzan, of course our local SCR volunteer fire captain DOUG CHRISTIAN to whom we owe a HUGE thank you as he may well have saved the Perris lives by waking them up and evac-ing them in time on Wednesday morning.before the fire took their home, and others I am probably forgetting. I am so very proud to consider this home and hope everyone is able to get to their respective homes soon.
With that, lets hope the next time we all communicate is at a community event gathering to celebrate with the fires long behind us!
My apologies for the long delay since the last update, but the day started early and took Smokey (me) and the Bandit (Nikko) all over Foss Valley to help put out smoldering flames/fires with Doug Christian, Glenn Salva, Evil Knievel, and Tarzan (Wayne) at Antica, the Manfrees, and the Perris.
Nikko and I started the day early by driving all the way out to Circle R ranch (east of Antica) to the end of Atlas Peak Road where CalFire crews (including Dozers) were planning their day. At that time, there were separate wildland crews working farther east (toward Atlas Peak Road) who were actively "backfiring" the entire hillsides to burn everything out. Per this morning's conversations, the plan was as follows:
Backfire everything that was remaining on the far far eastern side of Circle R Ranch, and then bulldoze a line all the way through Walt Ranch down to Circle Oaks in an effort to contain the fire north of Atlas Peak Road.
Once that was completed, transfer many/most of the CalFire crews from the top of Atlas Peak Road all the way to the far western side of Foss Valley to continue working the western edge of the fire out by Stagecoach. Apparently, the dozer crews last night did not complete the line from Stagecoach over to Chappellet/Pritchard hill, because there was already a dozer crew coming up from Chappellet/Pritchard Hill and the powers that be decided it would be best to get the dozers back to Atlas Peak Road to finish that line. As a result, the line from Stagecoach to Chappellet was not complete as of this morning, BUT the fire was just slowly working its way through the wildland areas above and north/northwest of Stagecoach. And, the plan (again, as of this morning) was to head back to Stagecoach sometime this afternoon and intentionally "backfire" everything that remained above and between Stagecoach and Chappellet so as to "tie the fire off" and essentially be done with all of Foss Valley and Atlas Peak.
What we have witnessed since this morning:
Most of the crews stayed at the top of Atlas Peak Road all morning to pursue the above plan;
Around 2:00pm, 2 helicopters began dropping water on the ridgeline above Stagecoach and Chappellet and continued that effort for several hours;
The fire on the far western side above Stagecoach has been slowly working its way closer to Rector Canyon (although it is still at least 1-2 miles away from the edge with additional vineyard breaks in between);
Around 5:00pm, what appeared to be many of the CalFire crews from Atlas Peak Road came rumbling down the gravel road and were presumably (we were out in our vineyards irrigating and thus did not have a chance to speak with CalFire) headed out to Stagecoach to keep with their plan of backfiring the remaining sections on the western-most edge of Stagecoach and "tie the fire off."
The wind is virtually non-existent in Foss Valley at present, which is exactly what CalFire was predicting/hoping for this morning so that they could backfire Stagecoach this afternoon/evening;
The fact that they all headed back out to Stagecoach around 5:00pm tells me that they are satisfied with the conditions at the top of Atlas Peak Road and now want to get the remainder of the fire done at Stagecoach so they can move on from Foss Valley/Atlas Peak and go assist in other areas;
As of present, there are no visible smoke plumes or smoldering fires visible to the north from our house anywhere between the Perris and the eastern edge of the Choppings, which is FANTASTIC news. Barring a significant wind event and south/southwest shift, I am cautiously optimistic that everyone with property/homes in Foss Valley is in good shape;
Moreover, if CalFire is successful in carrying out their plan of keeping the fire from going down Atlas Peak Road and out of Rector Canyon, then hopefully (fingers and toes crossed) everyone on lower Soda Canyon Road will be in good shape as well.
As for Soda Canyon Road remaining closed, I have no information. That said, a possible reason they may be keeping people out still is because they are trying to close everything out up here before additional cars/traffic/vehicles are able to get up here and "poke around." This is pure speculation, but lets hope that (or something similar) is the reason, and not because of any immediate fire risk of which I am not aware.
In closing, we have a lot to be thankful for up here and lets all stay hopeful that the weather continues to cooperate and that CalFire can close out upper Soda Canyon in the next few days. Have a great evening everyone and I will provide another update at some point tomorrow.
I just got a call from Neighbor Carol and she said that Jesselyn, whose husband is a firefighter, said that we are still under mandatory evacuation and the winds have picked up. There are now flames coming from that area to the north in the hills over Rector Canyon.
As Glenn mentioned this morning, the fire is a fluid moving object and I do see a lot of flames up there.
Stay safe and keep your eyes open!
[Road is apparently closed again even for residenst]
1:58 am: The fire is still running free towards Rector but having a difficult time moving downhill with no wind. I took several rides to Antica and the fire has progressed past Glenn Silva’s office towards Atlas Peak Rd. The fire is moving very slowly and only on the east side of the winery. My concerns are that the fire get on the other side near there winery. My eye was tuned to that area as the fire in 17 came at my place from behind. More difficult to defend against. Another lesson learned.
This afternoon/evening is/has gone far better than this morning. To our knowledge, no more structures on upper SCR have been lost. As of ~7pm, the Manfrees, Shepps, Choppings, and remaining structures at the Perris were not being threatened, primarily because most of the fuel has already burned around the properties. There is still some fuel between each of those respective properties that could light up if the winds shift south/southwest, but the winds are currently still calm and gently blowing (still ~5-10mph) northeast and away from Foss Valley. Three engine crews, including Tony Martinez and his fantastic team on Engine 25 from Monticello station, are staying up here tonight to monitor everything and make rounds as necessary.
The great news is that a Bulldozer crew consisting of a D5, D6, and D7 arrived mid-afternoon via Atlas Peak Road and have already cut a line from the northwestern border of Antica through the Choppings property and over to the Shepps property line. There is still active fire above (i.e. north) of that line, but it is all wildland and if all goes according to plan (i.e. winds do not shift to south/southwest), the fire should (fingers extra crossed) burn itself out back up to Atlas Peak and not push back south/southwest into Foss Valley.
After the Dozers cut that first line, they went "blades up" along the dirt road all the way out to the far western edge of Stagecoach and met up with another set of Dozers that cut/re-cut the same line along the northwestern edge of Foss Valley from the 2017 Atlas Fire that goes up and over the top toward Pritchard Hill/Chappellet/Sage Canyon. This is EXTREMELY important and good news, as by doing this, CalFire has effectively confined the fire (assuming no big wind events of course) to the remaining wildland areas on Atlas Peak and cut off access for the fire to get into Rector Canyon. The Dozers then tracked all the back across Foss Valley, back through Antica and, according to our convo with the current battalion chief for Upper SCR around 8pm, are heading back towards Atlas Peak Road in an effort to cut additional lines to try and prevent the fire from spreading down Atlas Peak Road, and thus, hopefully, from climbing up and over into Lower SCR. In short, they have a very good strategic plan in place to try and confine the fire to Atlas Peak (and out of Foss Valley), and thus far the plan seems to be working.
We are all very fortunate that many of the same "players" from CalFire from 2017 are up here again, know the area, and appreciate the extreme benefit of trying to keep the fire off of Atlas Peak Road and out of Rector Canyon, which is why they got the Dozers up here so quickly. To put it in perspective, in 2017, the fire started on Sunday night, and the Dozer crew did not arrive until Thursday or Friday. In 2020, the fire in Foss Valley effectively began this morning around 5am, and they had 3 bulldozers on the ground and cutting lines by mid-afternoon - that is really really good.
In closing, I am still heartbroken for the Perris, not to mention the dozens of other families in Vacaville, Fairfield, and other areas currently under siege, and send my sincerest condolences to them for the loss of their home, but I am also cautiously optimistic and hopeful that many more homes on SCR will be spared by the great efforts being put forth by CalFire.
I hope everyone is well and I will provide another update sometime in the morning.
Thank you so much for the information updates not to mention your fire fighting efforts. For those of us who can only watch from town and try to interpret the columns of smoke as to what’s burning and where exactly it’s burning your updates are greatly appreciated.
Greatful thanks from all of us to those brave residents who have remained on the mountain working to protect all of our homes. If you know of others to add to the list below, please let me know.
Dave and Lauren Griffiths
Wayne, Casey, Devery
I am very sorry to report that it was a bad night. As earlier emails from others indicate, the fire crested Atlas Peak around 4:00am and made a really fast run from the saddle out by Stagecoach (opposite Chappellet) and reached the Perri's home with little warning sometime around 5:00am. Thankfully, they were able to evacuate, but I am so sorry to report that the main home, along with a garage (a single truck inside) were completely lost. By the time Doug Christian and the local engines arrived, there was nothing that could be done. Again, I am so so sorry Mr. and Mrs. Perri. We have been checking on things there since and I can report that the small cottage by the pool, the generator/pump house, and the lower house are all intact and not currently threatened. We got on the roof of the cottage, cleared all the pine needles, fired up the trash/pool pump and wet the whole cottage and porch down in case there is another flare up (still some fuel in the vicinity, and things could obviously change quickly if winds pick up and push south/southwest).
As for the other adjacent homes, we spent almost the entire morning shuttling between the Perris, the Manfrees, the Shepps, and the Choppings. The Manfrees lost their pool/pump house, but so far no other structures. Main house and barn have good perimeter, sprinklers going on the roof, and we took our trash/pool pump there that is ready to go in case things turn south (both literally and figuratively). So far all structures at both Shepps and Choppings are still in place and although threatened, (hopefully) have a good chance of making it through, namely because of the engines on site. There are now two engines up here that are effectively doing what we are doing; that is, shuttling back and forth between the Perris, the Manfrees, the Shepps, and the Choppings, and, rumor has it that more resources are en route, but unknown how much and ETA.
Fortunately, the wind is calm (5-10 mph max) and pushing northeast, which means the fire is essentially push back into itself. The entire Atlas Peak ridge line (looking north out of Foss Valley) is "black" (i.e., burned), and slowly working its way east/northeast into itself. Air is surprisingly clear everywhere except immediately around the Perris/Manfrees/Shepps/Choppings.
We just got back from Hockers (Bill, I opened and left gate open and had CalFire "drop a pin" at your house so they could go there and get some perspective at some point) and there is no fire in Rector Canyon, and nothing (at this time) is any further into Foss Valley than what is (and has been) burning around the Perris, Manfrees, Shepps, and Choppings. In other words, everything further south into Foss Valley (Derns, Hockers, Challapallis/Dahans, Keyzers, Glorias, etc.) is all OK at this time.
I do not know the status of lower Soda Canyon, but heard chatter from CalFire guys that Atlas Peak Road may be having some problems, which, if true, could mean that a fire works over into lower Soda Canyon from Atlas Peak Road ridge line at some point. Again, that is NOT confirmed, based solely on CalFire chatter, and even they did not seem to have a good handle on that when we spoke (around 10am).
Internet is spotty, so not going to attach pictures at this time, but hopefully the above narrative provides everyone with some intel. Thank you and we will report back sometime later today/tonight.
My folks, Jim and Leonore, are over the ridge from you in “Upper” Capell Valley. No fire there now. Fire seems to be behind them near Lake Curry. Monitoring western front (Atlas Peak), which could make its way East down the Walt Ranch towards our property.
Real time update: The fire has now moved down into Foss Valley at the top of our canyon, and our neighbors there are fighting the fire to try to save their homes. Our farm and immediate neighbors down the canyon are not in immediate danger, but embers from these fires can spread it explosively, so this is worrisome.
In case you don’t already have this app, You can follow cal fire on this. It’s a free app, just download and go to Napa County/ Calfire. You can follow in real time. We just learned the fire is coming over the northeast ridge of Soda Canyon and there are fire trucks present.
Wayne and I went into Antica to the Gate to the Ranch -- all good. Other verhicle was the fire dept. -- same result -- all good…. Its still behind the same ridge and we could not see anyting on the “antica” side at all -- nothing. E.
Fresh Nixle alert states the fire is still moving toward Soda Canyon and Atlas Peak. The fire is getting close to the Atlas Peak Camera. It has also crossed Sage creek and is working it’s way up the back side of the ridge. The flow has intensified. Smoke could obscure the true intensity.
Some vehicles have been going down the road quickly
Thanks to prompt communications about the fire from Glenn Salva, Glenn Schreuder (aka Evil Knievel), and Shelle Wolfe earlier today, Smokey (me, Anthony) and the Bandit (Nikko) were quickly alerted, brought out of an all-too-brief retirement from 2017 SCR fire duty, made haste to Napa, and got up the hill before the roadblocks were put in place.
Thankfully, the afternoon winds were not too strong (~5-10mph) and were blowing northeast and AWAY from Soda Canyon. As a result, I am very pleased to report that the fire has not yet crested Atlas Peak and we obviously hope it stays that way. In fact, the current winds are nonexistent and it was actually an incredibly calm and peaceful evening, albeit for the orange glow lighting up the northern Foss Valley sky...
We will do our best to keep everyone updated, but please know that we are at our house (3030 Soda Canyon) for the foreseeable future, and if you need anything, please do not hesitate to call/email/swing by and let us know how we can help.
Again, everything is quiet, and the power is still on up here, which is obviously a good sign. Rest easy and we hope to have more good news tomorrow.