US fires: Situation changing ‘minute by minute’

Fires burning across the west coast of the US are continuing to put pressure on wine producers, with the Oregon Wine Board stating that the situation is changing “minute by minute”.

The latest information suggests that wineries and vineyards have largely escaped direct damage from the fires, which are raging across three states on the west coast of America.

Wine Spectator, however, has reported that one winery in the Rogue Valley AVA in Oregon has been destroyed in the Alameda fire, a blaze in the south of the state that has claimed the lives of four people.

Brian Denner, co-owner of Simple Machine winery, told the publication that the winery, its facilities, equipment, tasting room and inventory had all been destroyed in the blaze.

“Our beloved hometown of Talent is so devastated that it feels silly to even mention the loss a winery. We have innumerable friends and neighbors who are experiencing the same horror alongside us in our community,” he said.

The Oregon Wine Board said that it is “too early” to access the damage caused by the fires to vineyards and wineries in the state.

“As harvest nears, winemakers are placing the safety of their workers first,” communications manager Sally Murdoch said.

“Oregon winemakers have dealt successfully with mitigating wildfire smoke damage numerous times, although this is one of the first times the state’s winemakers have dealt with active fires in winemaking regions besides the Columbia Gorge fires of 2017. This year, adding to the Gorge’s Mosier fire, we also have fire pressure in numerous spots within southern Oregon and the Willamette Valley,” she added.

Murdoch said that research scientists working in Washington, Oregon and California have been collaborating over the past few months on a “comprehensive, three-state smoke impact research project”, which will be submitted to the USDA for funding. The project aims to help vine growers and winemakers better manage and anticipate the conditions they are experiencing.

At least 27 people in the states of California, Oregon and Washington have lost their lives as a result of the fires in the past week alone.

Firefighters are currently battling 29 major fires in California, with the so-called August Complex burning across Mendocino and Humboldt counties, overtaking the LNU Lightning Complex and the SCU Lightning Complex to become the largest fire in state history. According to Cal Fire, six of the state’s largest fires have occurred this year.

Over a million acres of land have now burned in Oregon as firefighters battle 16 major fires. 10 people in the state have died in the blazes.

Further north in Washington state, officials are tackling 15 major fires. Washington State Wine Commission’s communications manager Heather Bradshaw told the drinks business that the body is “carefully monitoring several wildfires” across the state, but is as yet not concerned about “widespread smoke exposure in the vineyards”.

“It’s too early to make any predictions or assumptions, but right now we are expecting the fruit to come in healthy. Harvest is well underway in Washington, and the fruit is looking fantastic,” she said.

According to IQ Air, which assesses air quality around the world, two cities on the US west coast currently have the highest levels of pollution in the world due to the smoke.

Top of the list is Portland in Oregon with an air quality described as ‘hazardous’ followed by Seattle in Washington with an ‘unhealthy’ rating. California’s San Francisco and Los Angeles are also among the top 10 polluted cities in the world.

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