Caught in the Napa Fires


Atlas FireAt 9:50pm a red glow emerged over the hills. At first I couldn’t distinguish what it was but as we continued driving, we realized the glow was actually bright orange and red flames rolling down the mountains. My family and I had just tasted a wonderful meal at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa, California. We were staying at my aunt’s and uncle’s vineyard called Arrow and Branch for the evening, fully ready to educate our wine pallets the next day.

We got back to Arrow and Branch ready to pass out from our food coma and exhaustion from a beautiful wedding weekend. I don’t think I truly knew exhaustion until the next day. The scent of bon fire filled our noses. The flames began to grow near and fear started to run through our hearts. You wouldn’t believe how many cars were driving down the road at 10:30pm. My dad asked a friendly neighbor how we would know to evacuate. Luckily he told us to subscribe to Nixle, a number you could text with your zip code that would alert you via text if evacuation was necessary. I never keep my phone on loud, not even vibrate, but my intuition told me something different this evening. My bags were even packed by the front door!


I had been asleep for about an hour and woke up around 12:30am. The room I was sleeping in had a perfect view of the fire. The blinds stayed open as I glanced periodically at the Atlas Peak fire growing larger and closer. Sleeping didn’t even seem like an option anymore. By 1:30am, my phone was buzzing with text after text filled with updates of the fire and locations that could be impacted. “Advisory evacuations for Atlas Peak area. Evac Centers: 2590 1st Street at Crosswalk Church,” I read.

I called my sister, Grace immediately telling her I think it was time to go. She walked downstairs to wake my parents and other sister, Beth. We packed the car as ash was flying into our eyes and coating the black seats of the Ford Edge. We pulled up to the parking lot of Crosswalk Church pretty early on. The American Red Cross checked us in, and cots, supplies, and warm welcomes were available for evacuees. Part of our Wismo family, Kit, David, and Rall were also in Napa for some wine tasting. So I shot them a text wondering if they were okay. They replied saying they were at a church somewhere in Napa. “We are at the Crosswalk Church,” I texted back. “Us too,” they said.


Who would have thought we’d get to see our family for a second time that weekend? They had woken up to sirens and lights flashing outside their hotel room. David called the front desk asking if everything was okay only to hear that they needed to evacuate the building. They didn’t have a car so some friendly man offered to drive them to the church. You know, in times of trouble like this, you really get to see the love for others emerge. People were even tweeting that they had room for two or four at their homes and they were willing to open up to complete strangers! Kit, David and Rall asked us to please not leave if we had to move on from the church. “We are family. We will cram everyone into this car, if necessary,” I replied. Fitting eight in a five person car with luggage wasn’t what we had planned but that didn’t even matter.

Time went on and by 4:30am we realized the residents of Napa needed this space more than we did. There were dogs, cats and residents frightened for their lives walking into this building. Strangers were hugging and support was given to whoever walked through those doors. “I’m not even familiar with the Napa area. I was just dogsitting for a friend,” I overheard a woman say. My heart goes out to all the people of Napa, Sonoma, and all surrounding areas as they move through this tragedy. Thank you to all the firefighters who risked their lives to protect homes of many.

There were about 45 people when we arrived at the church. By the time we checked out, the church was full with 300 evacuees. So we got back into the car and drove on. Do we go back to San Francisco? Do we try to catch a plane? Do we go on to Carmel and visit our Uncle Ridge? We had no idea what our plan was as we got into that car. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

We decided to go to Carmel Valley to see our uncle’s Joullian Vineyards tasting room. We didn’t even know if this was a possibility due to the fact that it was 5am and a call at this hour wasn’t an option. Drivers were running red lights and speeding down the road as we left the Napa area. By the time we got onto the highway, brake lights lit up as much as the flames on the side of the road. We rolled into Carmel around 7:30am without a wink of sleep. Props to my pops for driving the whole time.

By 7:30am, we thought we could give Uncle Ridge a call. Thank you Uncle Ridge for being so welcoming. Unfortunately, he was heading out of town but offered his home, time at the tasting room and a tour of the vineyard. Hotels were few and far between but luckily we found one. Everything was pretty much booked a few hours later! I guess people had the same idea as us when wine tasting in Napa was no longer a possibility.

We were extremely grateful we were able to see how grapes turned to wine. It was amazing to experience something for which my uncle grew a passion, pun intended. At the end of the day, we were safe. We were with family. I hope the families, the vines, and passions for wine will grow stronger after this fire in Napa. My love goes out to all. We pray for everyone’s safety as mother nature continues to run its course through the valley. Mother nature is a strong force but human nature offers compassion and kindness when mother nature has troublesome plans.

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