Posted by: ukiahhome | September 12, 2008

Vintage 2008: Smoke in the wine?

At our location and elevation, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes ripen early compared to those in the rest of Ukiah and Redwood Valleys. This weekend we harvested and crushed our grapes, as we often do in mid September. Immediately after crushing, as the must (fermenting grape juice with skins) began to settle down, I noticed that the Cabernet Sauvignon had a slightly odd aroma… a bit like burnt grass.

As an amateur wine maker, I’d have to guess that the summer fires (as I tracked in this blog) had some effect on the grapes at our specific location and elevation. However, our Merlot varietal seems fine so far… a puzzle since it’s grown adjacent to the Cabernet. One might conclude that the absorption of smoke is dependent on some precise characteristic of the grape itself.

What this means for 2008, we won’t know for some time. Like the toasting of the oak barrels in which the wine is stored, we can at least hope that it somehow adds to the character and robustness of the vintage. We’ll find out in 2010.

Posted by: ukiahhome | August 11, 2008

Smoky again. Fires still burning up north.

Today, the Ukiah area became smoky again. The wind has shifted, blowing smoke from various fires from the northeast in our direction.

Here’s a list of the larger fires still active in northern California:

  • Mendocino National Forest:
    • Yolla Bolly Complex: 86,192 acres at 90 percent contained. This complex of three fires is 47 miles southwest of Redding. Cultural sites are threatened. Active fire behavior was reported.
  • Shasta-Trinity National Forest:
    • Iron and Alps Complexes: 95,171 acres at 68 percent contained. This complex of three fires is one mile north of Junction City. Residences remain threatened.
    • Lime Complex: 64,502 acres at 97 percent contained. This complex of two fires is 14 miles west of Hayfork.
  • Klamath National Forest:
    • Bear Wallow Complex: 14,060 acres at 49 percent contained. This complex of two fires is 13 miles southeast of Happy Camp. Roads and trails are closed near the fire.
    • Siskiyou Complex: 61,404 acres at 64 percent contained. This complex is 18 miles southwest of Happy Camp. Cultural sites remain threatened.
    • Panther: 21,802 acres at 28 percent contained. This fire is 14 miles southwest of Happy Camp. Restricted traffic flow was reported on state highway 96. Recreation sites are currently closed.
  • Six Rivers National Forest:
    • Ukonom Complex: 49,929 acres at 80 percent contained. This complex is 10 miles east of Orleans. Structures and cultural sites remain threatened.
    • Blue 2: 9,226 acres at 64 percent contained. This fire is 12 miles east of Klamath. Cultural and communication sites are threatened. Roads and trails are closed.
  • Others:
    • Canyon Complex (Plumas National Forest): 37,831 acres at 97 percent contained. This complex of three fires is 16 miles northeast of Paradise.
    • Craig (Butte Unit, Cal Fire): 2,001 acres at 95 percent contained. This fire is located 12 miles east of Oroville. Residences and cultural sites are currently threatened. Minimal fire activity was reported.
Posted by: ukiahhome | July 29, 2008

Clear skies…

It’s been clear for the last few days… nice to see to seek the sky and hills again. Would be great if the rest of the summer remained like this.

Posted by: ukiahhome | July 24, 2008

Photo shows smoke from the north

Smoke in Ukiah and surrounding valleys is horrible today — nearly as bad as when the fires were burning in our backyard… and the word is, the smoke is not going to get better soon — until these fires are under control.

Here’s a photo that shows better what I’ve been talking about in my earlier blogs regarding Yolla Bolly wilderness and other fires to the north and how the wind blows the smoke to the south (our “normal” trade-wind direction). Scroll down to my earlier blogs for more details.

Smoke from fires in the north.

Smoke from fires in the north. July 22, 2008

Not this photo was taken two days ago, so the smoke direction has changed a bit.

Also, note that statewide, CalFire reports that more than 1 million acres have burned so far. That’s about 1600 square miles! (405000 hectares).

Posted by: ukiahhome | July 23, 2008

And the smoke goes on…

The smoke grew much worse today than it has been in several days. From what I can determine, the only local serious fire is in the Yolla Bolly wilderness, about 50 miles to the north of Ukiah Valley. The fire north of Potter Valley also appears to be growing, very slowly, and nowhere near as large as the one in Yolla Bolly.

Posted by: ukiahhome | July 18, 2008

100% Contained, but Smoky

CalFire reports 100% containment of Mendocino Fires today with a burn total of 54,800 acres (85 square miles, 22000 hectares). Let’s hope it stays there.

Smoke in Ukiah and Redwood Valley became worse today compared to yesterday. There’s still one new slowly growing fire a few miles north of Potter Valley (it sure doesn’t look fully contained).

Also, Yolla Bolly Middle Eel wilderness (northern part of Mendocino National Forest, 50 miles north of Ukiah) is still self destructing. It appears to be ripping through the wilderness area. See my earlier Yolla Bolly fires blog for details.

Interestingly, this evening we finally saw a number of fire bombers (four) flying out of Ukiah. In prior weeks, we’ve seen very little airplane activity. Today, the planes were headed directly northbound… and had fairly short roundtrips. Either there’s some new fire activity, or they’re pounding that fire north of Potter Valley.

Posted by: ukiahhome | July 17, 2008

Smoke is back…

Yesterday was nice and clear in Ukiah, but today, the smoke has returned.

Although most of the fires are contained, there are still a few fires in the area: the Yolla Bolly wilderness fire (50 miles north, as I described in detail in my prior blogs) and a flare-up (or perhaps backfire or controlled burn) a few miles north of Potter Valley.

The photo below is a few days old, and wind patterns have changed; however, it shows how far smoke from the Yolla Bolly fires is traveling.

Mendocion Smoke Pattern (July 14, 2008)

Mendocino Smoke Pattern (July 14, 2008)

CalFire: Please publish your maps…

The Ukiah Daily Journal ran a story today about how CalFire Maps the Fires. CalFire notes how many people want to see the maps. Since these maps are created by the California fire agency, it would be useful to the public if the maps could be published online for the rest of us to access.  Since the maps are already in an electronic form, this extra step should be minor (and only the top level summary maps would be necessary to publish.)

Posted by: ukiahhome | July 10, 2008

Spectactular photos…

I happened to come across this page, California’s Continuing Fires, a photo journal from a few professional photographers. The photos are not from the Ukiah area, but they are of a very high quality and are insightful regarding the firefighting efforts throughout California.

A few Ukiah local photos can be found here on Glenmaple’s photo page and Peter Armstrong also has many excellent photos (which you can also purchase in print form to help support his craft.)

Also, check out, Coping on the fire line from The Press Democrat — personal stories of fire fighers working on Orr Springs fire near Ukiah (includes a video too).

Posted by: ukiahhome | July 10, 2008

A sad goodbye to Yolla Bolly

A week ago, the fires and smoke seemed to be getting a lot better in the Ukiah area. Unfortunately, over the past few days, the smoke has returned to being as thick as it was two weeks ago.

Ukiah Smoke

Ukiah Smoke

I noted in my prior blog that the smoke was a puzzle because the Ukiah area fires appear to have settled down, with flareups here and there (see the Greenfield blog, for example). Although there are fires elsewhere in the county, it’s a surprise to see them generate this much smoke.

But as I noted a few days ago, the Yolla Bolly wilderness area along the northern end of the Mendocino National Forest (about 50 miles northeast of Ukiah), has become a raging inferno. Reports have been that they cannot even get close to it, mainly due to the rugged terrain and intense heat.

The Mendocino National Forest is located in the Coastal Mountain Range in northwestern California and comprises 913,306 acres (3,696 km²). It is the only national forest in the state of California without a major paved road entering it. (From Wikipedia)

In addition, the extremely hot weather this week has made the situation miserable, especially to firefighting crews. I’ve measured the temperature here on our ranch as high as 116 F / 47 C — and hitting about 110 F every day.

Here’s what it looks like today from the GeoMac fire imaging satellite:

Yolla Bolly Fires 2008

Yolla Bolly Fires 2008

(I show Covelo valley on the map, so you can get an idea for where this Yolla Bolly fire is burning relative to us, about 50 miles northeast from Ukiah.)

The red areas mark new fires (today, within the last few hours) and this kind of burn pattern has been repeating itself for the last week. The fire has become much worse, not only spreading to surrounding areas, but also burning within the deep valleys. (Note that some of these new fires may in fact be back fires started by firefighters in an attempt to limit the final extent of the blaze.)

About Yolla Bolly Wilderness…

If you’ve never been there, Yolla Bolly is a pristine hiking and backpacking park. Here’s a short description from

“… the as-rugged-as-it-comes headwater country of the Wild and Scenic Middle Fork of the Eel River, Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness ranges in elevation from about 2,700 feet to 8,000 feet. The river crashes wildly through the Wilderness in a deep canyon for approximately six miles, and, combined with sections of the 48 miles of river outside the Wilderness, forms what is arguably California’s finest long white-water run. Chamise and manzanita in the lower elevations give way to dense arrays of pine and fir cloaking numerous ridges. Vast grasslands open many of the steep hillsides. Summer wildflowers dramatically color large mountain meadows. Bear and deer populate the area in relative abundance…”

By the way, if you are not familiar with it, the term wilderness is a special National Park designation that indicates an area that is kept 100% natural and no mechanized vehicles (or devices) of any kind are allowed — not even a wagon or bicycle, for example.

And, on a more personal note…

I fear there’s no way that the Yolla Bolly mountain wilderness is going to be the same… for many decades to come. Ironically, I was talking with my family about planning a backpack trip up there this summer. I wanted my kids to experience and marvel at the beauty of it.

We used to make these high mountain trips every summer… most often to the Trinity Alps wilderness (similar, but further to the north, also on fire). However, in recent years, we’ve all been so busy, and perhaps deep down, none of us feel as mentally or physically prepared for such a trek… as we once were.

Posted by: ukiahhome | July 7, 2008

Quick update…

Although it’s still very smoky in the Ukiah and Redwood Valley areas, the fires no longer show new activity or growth according to today’s satellite images. So, that’s a good thing.

CalFire reports that progress is being made on various fires throughout the county, and that the Mendocino Lightning Complex has now burned approximately 46,800 acres and is 45% contained.

It states that there are 43 active fires, and that some are slowly increasing in size, but CalFire does not indicate where those fires are burning, and I must admit I am puzzled regarding their locations.

Also, CalFire notes that the cost of firefighting has skyrocketed to $22 million, more than doubling in cost from when I last checked a few days ago. There are now more than 1,700 personnel, 150 engines, 40 bulldozers, 15 helicopters, and 3 airplanes dispatched.

Fortunately, we are seeing little of this in the Ukiah area. Although engines are parked around the fairgrounds, we don’t see any related fire air-traffic going on. The fires must be in the northern parts of the county.

If you happen to know more about current Mendocino fire locations, please post a comment. Thanks.

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