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Saturday, January 19 , 2019, 8:12 pm | Fair 56º


Alamo Fire Burning East of Santa Maria Has Spared Wineries, Vineyards

Fire burning east of Santa Maria blackened about 29,000 acres as of Monday afternoon but wine grapes and tasting rooms have avoided the blaze so far


Vineyards and wineries east of Santa Maria appear to have escaped damage as the Alamo Fire’s flames raced through canyons and over ridges east of Santa Maria, but not all winemakers were resting easy just yet after a busy weekend of worrying and working.

Joey Tensley of Tensley Wines said his Colson Canyon vineyard appeared safe as firefighters worked to keep flames from crossing the Tepusquet Canyon.

“I don’t want to jinx it but we’re good so far,” he said of the vineyard he purchased two years ago.

As of Tuesday morning, the fire had charred 28,926 acres with containment jumping to 45 percent after favorable weather led to minimal fire activity overnight.

Cal Fire officials estimated Monday that the Alamo blaze won’t be fully contained until July 22. 

Since the fire’s start Thursday afternoon off Highway 166 near the Twitchell Reservoir, the blaze has destroyed one residential structure, Cal Fire officials confirmed.

Highway 166 from Highway 101 to New Cuyama plus Tepusquet Road remained closed as of Tuesday.

Mandatory evacuation orders were still in place for Tepusquet Road from Blazing Saddle Drive to Santa Maria Mesa Road, Blazing Saddle Drive and White Rock Lane, plus Colson and Pine canyons, Buckhorn Ridge and White Rock Road.

It’s still too early to estimate when residents will be able to return to their homes, Cal Fire public information officer Toni Davis said.

Hand crews head down to cut a 10-foot-wide line in the brush during the Alamo Fire response Monday. Click to view larger
Hand crews head down to cut a 10-foot-wide line in the brush during the Alamo Fire response Monday.  (Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo)

“It all depends how well the line looks,” Davis said. “They want to make sure that everything’s safe and sound before they let residents back in there. We wouldn’t want anybody to get hurt.”

The small army battling the blaze totaled 2,027 personnel with crews staging and sleeping at the Santa Maria Elks/Unocal Event Center. 

Scarred hillsides, where flames raced through dry brush, could be seen above, and adjacent to in some cases, vineyards off Santa Maria Mesa Road.

Flames reached within feet of the Bien Nacido Vineyards and farming facilities, company officials said, describing the blaze approaching the property from three sides.

Crews worked through the weekend to build fire breaks to strengthen the defense against the fire, Bien Nacido Vineyards’ Nicholas Miller said. 

Without that work, the fire likely would have raced through the property, added Miller, a member of the fifth-generation family of farmers.

“I’ve never seen a fire like this in my lifetime,” he added.

With the fire breaks created and fire crews setting back fires, Bien Nacido representatives reported Monday receiving zero damages at the vineyards or related structures. 

“We are extremely grateful for the heroic efforts of our team and of the firefighting personnel who helped to protect our vineyards,” Michael Brughelli, director of grape sales at Bien Nacido Vineyards, said Monday. 

“Thanks to today’s steady onshore winds, the smoke and ash have been blown away from the vineyard and we are pleased to report that there is no apparent or foreseeable damage to our 2017 vintage.”

A hillside smolders Monday afternoon after flames from the Alamo Fire raced above vineyards on Santa Maria Mesa Road. Click to view larger
A hillside smolders Monday afternoon after flames from the Alamo Fire raced above vineyards on Santa Maria Mesa Road. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Similar steps to cut fire breaks were taken at Cambria Estate Vineyard and Winery, according to Denise Shurtleff, general manager and winemaker.

Evacuation orders prompted Cambria Winery to close its tasting room both Saturday and Sunday.. 

 “We are incredibly lucky that we have not experienced any vineyard loss at this point, and our tasting room was not damaged thanks to the hard work of the firefighting teams here,” Shurtleff added. “We opened for business again on Monday once the evacuation orders and most road closures were lifted."

The timing of the fire, weeks from harvest, has wine experts believing the blaze likely won’t taint the harvest.

Numerous studies have been conducted about how, or if, smoke affects winegrapes, according to Au Bon Clement General Manger Jim Adelman who suggested meeting in three years for a tasting to determine effects.

“If this was five weeks from now I would be a lot more panicked,” Tensley added. 

The lack of ash settling on vineyards made Miller positive smoke tinge won’t pose a problem for 2017.

“I think we probably dodged that bullet,” he said.

Meanwhile, one winemaker had a light-hearted reaction to the smoke engulfing the vineyards.

“I prefer Pinot Noir with BBQ, not BBQ'd Pinot Noir,” Byron winemaker Jonathan Nagy said on Twitter.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

A Cal Fire crew prepares to haul hose lines to support hand crews and douse hot spots in the Alamo Fire Monday. Click to view larger
A Cal Fire crew prepares to haul hose lines to support hand crews and douse hot spots in the Alamo Fire Monday.  (Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo)

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