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Monterey fire destroys vineyard owner’s home

Thousands of firefighters have been battling to contain a large wildfire in California's Monterey County that has destroyed a vineyard owner's property and led to mass evacuations.

Flames from the Monterey fire consumed the property of Big Sur Vineyards owner Lenora Carey as fire crews struggled to contain it. There was also a small, non-commercial vineyard on the land.

Residents in several areas of the county have been told to evacuate in the past week and at least one person – a bulldozer driver – was killed while trying to tackle the blaze, named the Soberanes fire, according to local media.

More than 5,000 firefighters have been battling the flames, which have burned across 16,000 hectares of land, according to California’s fire authority, Cal Fire. Photos on social media show smoke blowing across a wide area.

Kim Stemler, executive director of Monterey Wines, told Decanter.com that winemakers’ first concern was for safety and the wider community, but that there were also worries about vineyards.

‘Sadly, the fire is moving closer to our vineyards in Carmel Valley,’ Stemler said on Monday night (1 August).

But, it was hoped that a fire there last September had burned most of the available fuel.

‘Less than 1% (350 acres) of our grapes are cultivated in the Carmel Valley and most of this is deep in the valley in an area called Cachagua. This area was placed on evacuation standby this morning,’ Stemler added.

‘The vineyards/wineries in this area include: Bernardus, Galante, Heller, and Silvestri. Right now they are all safe.’

Cal Fire said that the Soberanes fire was 18% contained on Monday.

If vineyards remain unscathed, there are concerns about the impact of smoke taint in the vineyards.

In the Cahcagua area, Stemler said producers may be lucky. ‘Fortunately the grapes in this region have yet to go under veraison,’ she said. Smoke taint is generally considered more of a problem for the vintage after this point.

Community spirit

‘Our wineries are stepping up by volunteering, collecting goods needed for the volunteer fire brigades and hosting various fundraisers,’ Stemler added.

Despite losing her house, Big Sur Vineyards owner Lenora Carey held a fundraiser for those affected at her tasting rooms in Carmel Valley Village on 29 July. Monterey Wines plans to hold a larger-scale event on 28 August.

It warned many residents south of East Carmel Valley Rd that they should evacuate, although an evacuation order was later lifted for other areas, including Carmel Highland.

Updated 02/08/2016: Replaced ‘Salinas’ Valley with ‘Carmel’ Valley in quote from Monterey Wines.

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