Northern California continues to reel from ongoing wildfires that began on Sunday, October 8, affecting regions such as Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Mendocino, Redwood Valley, and Santa Cruz. The 250 total wildfires, 21 of which were categorized as major, have burned more than 245,000 acres, forced 100,000 evacuations, and claimed 42 lives, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).
As of Friday morning, nearly 10,000 firefighters were still battling seven major fires in California and though most mandatory evacuation orders have been lifted, about 15,000 people remain displaced, says Cal Fire.
The fires in California were, in large part, caused by something the state has desperately needed in recent years: rain. Grass and other vegetation that grew in abundance during the wet winter dried out during summer, providing the fuel for fires that spread rapidly due to winds that reached, at times, 50 miles per hour.
Though firefighters' efforts are ongoing, it's not too soon to help those in need, as many residents have returned to their communities only to find destruction. The Napa Valley Vintners Association has reactivated the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund, through which you can donate to local nonprofits that provide temporary shelter, meals, medical care, child care, animal care, and mental health services to fire victims. The Redwood Credit Union is also accepting donations.
Another way to help California residents: Don't cancel your honeymoon or wedding plans. According to the Sonoma County Vintners (SCV), less than 10 of the approximately 1,200 wineries in Mendocino, Napa, and Sonoma counties (the regions most impacted) have been destroyed or heavily damaged. These regions depend on tourism dollars, and will need them even more so as they seek to rebuild.
“Our lush vineyards, hundreds of wineries, stunning beaches, and ancient redwoods are here and most of them are open,” said Tim Zahner, interim CEO of Sonoma County Tourism. “We’re going to need visitors now more than ever," he adds. "Providing hospitality to travelers is the best way to help Sonoma County get back to work. Our 20,000-plus tourism jobs are among small, locally owned businesses. We want to see you and welcome you to the Sonoma County we all love.”
Here's the latest information on the affected areas:
The wildfires mostly affected the eastern and western hills surrounding the valley floor, so nearly all of the region's hotels, wineries, restaurants, and other businesses have remained open or are reopening this week. None of the restaurants sustained physical damage and all but 10 of the 400-plus wineries will reopen by October 23. Visit Napa Valley encourages travelers not to cancel their plans, especially since all hotels will be open by next Saturday. That said, be sure to confirm any previously made reservations directly with the hotel, winery, restaurant, or other vendor.
For those who plan to visit, know that drinking wine helps others: Vineyards such as Silver Trident are donating all tasting fees for the month of October, while HALL Wines has partnered with Redwood Credit Union to match gifts dollar for dollar. The $200,000 goal will go to the nonprofit North Bay Fire Relief Fund.
The annual Napa Valley Film Festival will still take place from November 8 to 12, 2017. The festival's organizers are working alongside local businesses and the community to aid efforts to rebuild the region—10 percent of all pass sales from October 16 through the festival will be donated to the Napa Valley Community Foundation’s Disaster Relief Fund. So if you're a film buff or a wine lover, support the region by traveling for this multi-faceted event, where you can attend 120-plus film screenings, watch culinary demonstrations from noteworthy chefs, and, of course, partake in wine tastings. You may even get to rub shoulders with this year's special attendees, which include Will Ferrell, Nancy Meyers, Michael Shannon, and Michael Stuhlbarg.
For more information on what's open in Napa Valley and how you can help, go here.
Sonoma is home to one million acres of vineyards, pastures, forests, and beaches—and more than 90 percent of it thankfully remains unaffected by the fires.
“California has faced an unimaginable tragedy and our hearts go out to those who have lost so much," says Carla Howard, Executive Director Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Bureau. "While the fires impacted a portion of Sonoma County, our amazing vineyards, tasting rooms, hotels, and restaurants remain intact. We’re doing our best to support our neighbors and want visitors to know we’re open and ready to welcome them to wine country.”
And visit you should: Sonoma County Vintners (SCV) reports that 98 percent of wineries and tasting rooms in the region are operational. So those traveling to or getting married in Sonoma can still experience the charms of many boutique, family-operated wineries. And doing so will help give those in need, since places like Walt Wines are donating all tasting fees from the month of October to the Wine Country Fire Relief. See here for the latest list of wineries that are open for tastings.
If you can't travel but still love to drink Sonoma wines, good news: SCV foresees that the 2017 vintage will be of the same quality that consumers have come to expect from the region. That's, ironically, thanks to elevated temperatures during the late summer months, which led to a quickened harvest (meaning 90 percent of grapes were off the vine prior to the fires).
Along these lines, Zahner asks that travelers continue to support the wineries, breweries, cheese makers, farmers, and local artisans of Sonoma County by purchasing products that were bottled in, made in, grown in, brewed in, or otherwise came from Sonoma County.
For the latest updates on which businesses are open, visit SonomaCounty.com.
Other areas of Northern California
As of Friday, the two major fires that have wreaked havoc on Mendocino and Lake counties were 95 and 96 percent contained, respectively. Mendocino's 90 miles of Pacific coastline, Anderson Valley wine region, and popular sites like Fort Bragg, Little River, and Point Arena Lighthouse remain untouched. Likewise, the scenic coastal Highway 1 and Highway 101 are fully operational, as are the 450-plus hotels and 90-plus wine tasting venues.
Don't wait—donate to relief efforts or travel now to Northern California to help those in need.