Updated: Sept. 15, 3 p.m.
Wildfires continue to wreak havoc throughout Oregon as firefighters confront flames and smoke that are unprecedented in modern times. Thirty-six active fires had burned nearly a million acres as of the morning of Sept. 15, according to the Oregon Office of Emergency Management. At least eight people have died and 50 remain unaccounted for, while more than 1,600 homes and structures have been destroyed.
Most of the wildfires remain distant from Willamette Valley, although air quality from smoke remains a concern. Firefighters may catch a break later in the week as cooler weather and rain is predicted throughout most of the state by Thursday.
One Rogue Valley winery, however, has not been spared. Wine Spectator has learned that Simple Machine winery was destroyed by the Alameda fire in the southern part of the state. “Simple Machine winery has completely burned to the ground, with loss of all facilities, equipment, inventory, and tasting room. There is literally not a single bottle left,” said co-owner Brian Denner, who moved to Oregon ten years ago after making wine in California’s Paso Robles. “Our beloved hometown of Talent, Ore., 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.”
The largest complex of fires is in the Santiam Canyon area, located in the Cascade Mountains east of Salem, the state capitol. Farther south, near Eugene, the Holiday Farm fire has reached 145,000 acres, with no containment. Last week, the the Chehalem Mountain-Bald Peak fire broke out in Willamette Valley. That blaze, located northeast of Newberg, spread to 2,000 acres but was soon contained. Smoke has drifted over the area, worrying some vintners.
Wineries in the area, including Ponzi and Adelsheim, were briefly evacuated, but no wineries or vineyards have been damaged, according to veteran winemaker Rollin Soles.
Willamette Valley residents woke on the morning of Sept. 10 to a haze of smoke. “The density of the local smoke is not too bad today, and it also depends on where you are in the valley,” winemaker Josh Bergström said. “Keeping fingers crossed!”
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Fires have also threatened southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley. Lindsey Zagar, communications manager for Del Rio Vineyards, said they have been lucky. “We had blue skies and sunshine over the vineyard yesterday. Many of our employees had to evacuate their homes, but all are safe.”
Herb Quady of Quady North offered his take on the fires in southern Oregon. “There are fires to the northeast, north and west of us,” he said. “My home and vineyard are well away from the fires, and [on Sept. 8] local fire crews made a hard stand and stopped the Alameda fire about two miles south of the winery. Unfortunately, one of my employees lost their home.”
In Washington, most of the wildfires are well north of Walla Walla Valley and Red Mountain. However, the Evans Canyon fire, now 80 percent contained, has burned more than 75,000 acres in the foothills of the Cascades, northwest of Yakima. Winemaker Matt Reynvaan reported a slight haze of smoke in Walla Walla on Thursday morning.
In California, firefighters continue to battle multiple blazes, including in Mendocino County, the Sierra Nevada mountains and north of Los Angeles. Major wine regions dodged the fires this week, but smoke obscured the sun for much of Wednesday and a heat wave has forced rolling blackouts during harvest.
Fire season is far from over along the West Coast, but Quady is optimistic for Oregon. “If they can knock the surrounding fires down, we can avoid any smoke issues except for vineyards that were adjoining the fires. We can still have a nice harvest.”
Denner says he and his partner plan to rebuild. “Our vision and resolve have been refined and hardened. We will all shake off the ash after the fires stop burning and rebuild along with our devastated friends and neighbors.”