Hillside on fire
UP IN FLAMES Visitors to Trattore Farms & Winery on Dry Creek Road witnessed a hill across the valley erupt into flames and smoke on Father’s Day afternoon. (Photo by Eddy Cumins)

UPDATE: The evacuation order for the northern end of Dry Creek Valley, which was imposed on Sunday, June 16, was lifted by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office at 5pm on Wednesday. Residents were returning to their homes.

A warm and sunny Father’s Day amid the rolling hills of the Dry Creek Valley outside Healdsburg took an uneasy turn early Sunday afternoon, when hundreds of residents, winery staff and tourists began receiving alerts on their phones about a wildfire near Lake Sonoma.

Cal Fire, the lead response agency, named it the Point Fire after Stewarts Point-Skaggs Spring Road where it started. “It’s a bad spot, because it’s vegetation that likes to burn and produces embers,” said Marshall Turbeville, chief of the Northern Sonoma County Fire Protection District.

Weather conditions, too, were ripe for fire, with low air humidity, and high heat and winds. During the next 12 whirlwind hours, the Point Fire burned through more than 1,000 acres of rural land southeast of the lake—destroying three country homes and seven other structures, threatening dozens of world-famous wineries and possibly damaging some grapevines, and prompting widespread PG&E power outages that lasted for days.

Fire truck
FIRST RESPONSE Cal Fire trucks from Hood Mountain respond to the smoke and flames near the source of the Point Fire on June 16, just 90 minutes after the first call came in. (Photo by Tenaya Fleckenstein)

As thick smoke poured across Sonoma and Napa counties, more than 300 residents of the northern Dry Creek Valley and its foothills rushed to evacuate, along with hundreds more lake and tasting-room visitors.

“Everything that firefighters were doing wasn’t working” that first day, Chief Turbeville said. As they tried to douse the Point Fire from the ground and air, gusts up to 40 mph kept blowing more embers downwind, igniting huge new swaths of vegetation.

On top of that, according to Cal Fire spokesman Jason Clay, crews were working in “steep and rugged terrain” with homes tucked into trees along narrow, winding roads. In firefighter lingo, it’s called a “wildland-urban interface”—one of the trickiest to navigate.

Santa Rosa residents Vivian and Eddy Cumins were enjoying a glass of wine on Father’s Day at Trattore Farms & Winery on Dry Creek Road, taking in a view of the hills to the west, quilted in forests and vines. They watched, mesmerized, as one of those hills went up in flames. “You have the beauty of the hill and the green and the vineyards,” Vivian Cumins said. “And then you have this beast of fire coming across and just starting to consume it.”

As she and her husband evacuated the winery on the gentle orders of Trattore staff, she said they encountered a stop-and-go line of cars along Dry Creek, many pulling boats—apparently fleeing from Lake Sonoma. “You could tell how rushed they were, because their boats were only halfway onto their trailers,” she said.

Fire truck and flames
FLAMES A Cal Fire truck from Hood Mountain sits near the source of the Point Fire on Sunday afternoon, June 16.(Photo by Tenaya Fleckenstein)

Memories of Fires Past

For those who call the valley and its hills home, the chaotic outbreak of the Point Fire on Sunday brought back memories of the Walbridge Fire that ravaged the area in 2020, tearing through a similar footprint (only much larger) and burning hundreds of buildings.

It carried all the markers of that traumatic event: The screaming phone alerts. Flashing sirens. Road barricades. The sickly orange-yellow color of the sky. The frantic trips from home to car, stockpiling valuables. A goodbye glance at the house on the way out. The smell and taste of thick smoke—and, up closer, of burning wood and plastic.

In a briefing Monday morning at the Cloverdale fairgrounds, a Cal Fire unit chief reminded firefighters they would be encountering Walbridge Fire survivors as they continued battling the Point Fire that day. “So please be mindful of that, and take a second to communicate with them, and let them know that we’re doing everything that we can,” the unit chief said.

With some luck, the situation vastly improved overnight, as weather conditions calmed and cooled. Multiple helicopters dropping water on flames all Sunday night also helped, according to Chief Turbeville—a night operation he called “a first in Sonoma County.”

Fire smoke in sky
PLUME The Point Fire sends a long trail of smoke through the Dry Creek Valley on Sunday afternoon, as seen from the perimeter of the mandatory evacuation zone along Chemise Road. (Photo by Simone Wilson)

Over the next couple of days, hundreds of firefighters from more than 15 different agencies across Sonoma County continued to ramp up their attack. The multifaceted, Cal Fire-led operation involved 50 fire engines and 12 ground crews, 10 dozers carving out fire barriers, 10 “water tenders” bussing in water to fight the flames and at least four aircraft doing aerial drops. (One responder was injured when a tree branch fell and gashed his neck, according to Cal Fire officials, who later said the injury was non-life-threatening.)

With cooperation from the wind, firefighters managed to halt the fire’s spread early on, keeping it to just over 1,200 acres. By Wednesday, the situation was more of a “mop-up” operation, according to Cal Fire—meaning responders focused on dousing any remaining hotspots and making the area safe for residents to return.

Sense of Relief

The resounding sentiment among locals: This could have been so much worse. “It’s a miracle that almost everything survived,” said Mary Louise Bucher, who co-owns Trattore Farms & Winery with her husband.

Of course, this sense of relief does not extend to those who may have lost their homes. Reporters who entered the burn zone documented houses ablaze on West Dry Creek Road—as well as other structures being saved from the flames by both firefighters and bold residents who hung back to defend their properties. John Clarke Mills, creator of the Watch Duty fire app, said he had friends with homes “just south of Bradford Mountain” who “thankfully didn’t lose anything but were fighting fire on their land.”

At press time, Cal Fire officials reported only two destroyed structures, but planned to update that number shortly.

(On Thursday, Cal Fire updated the count of structures damaged and destroyed by the Point Fire. According to the agency’s fire incident map, three homes burned down, another home sustained major damage and another sustained minor damage. In addition, seven “utility or miscellaneous structures” burned down, while two others sustained minor damage.)

A spokeswoman for the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley Association, which represents all but a few of the approximately 70 wineries in the area, said no wineries burned. However, she said one popular local spot—Bella Vineyards & Wine Caves—reported some damage to its vineyards. “Their wine cave and their tasting room are totally fine,” Winegrowers rep Amanda Brower said on Tuesday. “But we’ve heard of some of their vines getting caught in the fire.”

Although a second-order problem, other local winery owners worry about what the Point Fire might mean for business. “We are terrified right now,” said Bucher at Trattore Winery. “It’s early enough in the season that hopefully there’s no smoke taint on the grapes. But we’re also terrified because people become very reluctant to come back after the fires.”

Night view of fire
NIGHT OP The view from Trattore Farms & Winery on Dry Creek Road on Sunday night. Two to three helicopters dumped water on the Point Fire overnight—the first night operation of its kind in Sonoma County, according to local fire chief Marshall Turbeville. (Photo by Mary Louise Bucher)

Point of Origin

Cal Fire is still investigating what sparked the Point Fire. Many locals were confused at first about whether it was a controlled burn or a wild one, since it broke out within a day or two of a nearly 300-acre prescribed burn on the other side of Lake Sonoma that hopped its set perimeter at one point, burning another 20 acres or so before firefighters got a handle on it.

Friday’s prescribed burn has not been ruled out as the cause of the Point Fire, simply because “nothing gets ruled out,” said Cal Fire spokesman Clay. But he noted there was a fair amount of time and distance between them.

Fire officials say original predictions of a medium-to-mild 2024 fire season, much like those of the past few years, are quickly shifting to a more severe outlook—punctuated by the Point Fire, which comes unusually early in the season. A few recent heat waves and periods of powerful winds have officials on high alert. And after so much rain over winter, “the grass this year is just burning really well,” Turbeville said.

Thanks to the Point Fire and another big fire burning right now in Colusa County to our north, Cal Fire’s Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit has seen “more acres burned in our unit over the last three days… than we saw in the previous three years combined,” the agency tweeted Tuesday.

That said, the rural Healdsburg community and its protectors appear more prepared than ever, as demonstrated by the swift and calculated Point Fire response.

“The resources that we have available to us at Cal Fire have been greatly enhanced over time,” Clay said. “And it’s not just us—it’s all our partners that we work with. And then the public plays a big role. It’s really important that Californians understand that it takes all of us to come together to keep people safe.”

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Simone Wilson was born and raised in Healdsburg, CA, where she was the editor of the Healdsburg High School Hound's Bark. She has since worked as a local journalist for publications in San Diego, Los Angeles, New York City and the Middle East. Simone is now a senior product manager and staff writer for the Healdsburg Tribune.


  1. It looks to me like the fire started near the Lake Sonoma Overlook. All kinds of people hang out up there. The land is full of dry grass and mesquite, which burns and pops and sends up embers.
    Who owns that land? The Corps of Engineers?

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