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Napa gets US$37.5 million federal grant for fireproof construction

A multi-million-dollar grant has been awarded to Napa County to help build fireproof structures. db discovers what this means for winemakers.

Napa County has been allocated a federal Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities grant to help build fire-resistant properties in the region.

In addition to the considerable US$37.5 million sum, Napa County government will also match 25% of the grant, which it says will “have a tremendous impact on our ability to drive and uphold investment in wildfire resiliency projects that will bring value to our region in the years ahead.”

The drinks business spoke with Rex Stults, vice president of industry relation for Napa Valley Vintners, who works on wildfire prevention and mitigation, about what the grant means for winemakers in the region.

Napa Valley Vintners, a nonprofit trade association with around 539 members, has been instrumental in lobbying for the federal support.

According to Stults, wildfire is Napa Valley Vinters’ “top priority” when it comes to issues facing the wine industry.

“We’re thrilled that our county government pursued this critical funding and is coming up with the multimillion dollar matching funding requirement as well,” Stults told db.

“It demonstrates the county’s commitment to the issue of wildfires, which affect each and every resident of Napa County, stretching far beyond the local wine industry. The 2020 wildfires cost the Napa wine industry alone an estimated US$2 billion.”

Stults said that the multi-year Community Wildfire Protection Plan is “already making our community safer” but cautioned that “we need to keep the pedal to the metal and carry out the plan in its entirety.”

Linda Reiff, president and CEO of Napa Valley Vintners told db earlier this year that the organisation had been “deeply involved” in fire mitigation, and had paid for “rapid-detection devices to be installed throughout the county”.

How is California tackling the threat of wildfire?

In September 2022, the Board of Forestry and Fire voted unanimously to pass a new set of Minimum Fire Safe Regulations for the state of California.

Much of the new regulations concern road width in order to ensure that fire trucks are able to access affected areas and turn around if necessary. There was, however, some concern among wine producers that if their winery was to burn down, they may be precluded from rebuilding if the road on which the winery sat is now considered to be too narrow to accommodate fire trucks due to the updated regs.

Technological advances are also bringing California closer to being able to protect its homes and residents from wildfires, which are occurring more frequently due to climate change.

In November 2022, construction company Dvele unveiled its blueprint for a home that can be rebuilt in just one month following a wildfire, and which has a largely fireproof exterior.

Exterior surfaces on the home are “largely fire resistant”, while solar panels and a back-up battery protects against power shut-offs in case of a fire. An advanced ventilation system is said to filter smoke and recirculate room air.

More impressive still is the home’s ability to self monitor for signs of fire, with 300 sensors embedded in the walls, electrical, water and HVAC systems to keep track of temperature and moisture levels.

Furthermore, Sonoma-based tech start-up Agrology launched its Fire Map in May 2023, which allows growers to monitor active wildfires within a 20-mile radius anywhere in the world.

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