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Wine Country Wildfire 70% Contained, Officials Say

August 02, 1996| From Associated Press

AGUA CALIENTE, Calif. — A wildfire that threatened vineyards and homes in the Sonoma and Napa County wine country was 70% contained Thursday with the help of reinforcement crews from around the state.

The blaze had scorched two homes in Sonoma, part of a winery and more than 2,000 acres by Thursday afternoon and was moving northeast, away from other houses but toward some vineyards. It was burning on a heavily forested ridge about four miles north of Sonoma, California Department of Forestry Capt. Garrett McInnes said.

Full containment was expected 6 p.m. today.

Only one of the area's famed wineries was burned so far. The fire scorched about 50 acres of Carmenet. And residents of 75 homes who were evacuated when the flames came dangerously near were allowed to return home early Thursday evening.

Firefighters got a break early Thursday when the winds died down and the flames calmed. Temperatures remained mild by late morning, providing better firefighting conditions than Wednesday, when it was 102 with extremely dry air, McInnes said.

"The weather was milder than we expected, but it's still very hot out there," said forestry spokeswoman Sandra Locke. "No reports of injuries so far and that's really great considering the rough terrain that's out there."

About 500 firefighters saved an estimated 200 homes from burning in the first eight hours of the blaze, the department said. An additional 1,000 personnel from Southern and Northern California joined them Thursday morning.

Six air tankers, two helicopters, 15 hand crews, 60 engines and nine bulldozers were doing battle Thursday, but the flames continued to march ahead.

The fire broke out at 2:15 p.m. Wednesday in the hills of the Valley of the Moon, near Agua Caliente. Officials are investigating the cause.

Within hours, it spread into Napa County. The area is covered with dry pine and madrone trees and low-growing manzanita and other brush.

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Department began evacuating residents about five hours after the fire began.

Resident Terry Kearsley fled with four boxes of fine china tied to his motorcycle. His wife loaded the car with pictures and two dogs.

"Not so long ago, I thought people who live in California must be crazy, living in a place with fires and earthquakes," he said. "But in the first week I've been here, there's been a fire. Next week, I'll be preparing for an earthquake."

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