Telltale pink in the Point Fire scar. (Photo: Lynda Hopkins via Facebook)

One more thing to add to the Point Fire damage report I gave you over the weekend: A plot of wine grapes called Lago di Merlo Vineyards near Lake Sonoma may have been destroyed by some of the hot-pink fire retardant dropped by Cal Fire aircraft to stop the spread of the 1,200-acre wildfire, according to the Press Democrat.

From the story:

Estimates of damage from the now fully contained Point Fire in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley won’t be fully known for weeks, according to the Sonoma County wine region’s trade group.

But one grape grower already is bracing for a total crop loss this year, even though firefighters kept the flames away from vines for the most part. Complete damage reports are still coming in, but widespread vine damage is thought to be limited.

Ground crews together with sorties of helicopters bringing water from Merlo Lake off Skaggs Springs Road limited the direct fire damage at Lago di Merlo Vineyards. Some vine foliage and drip irrigation lines burned as fire moved down certain rows with unmown cover crops in line with the strong wind.

But what second-generation owner Harry Merlo Jr. is most concerned with is what he and potential buyers of the forthcoming crop can see — and not see.

“We have grapes with a lot of fire retardant on them,” Merlo said.

He estimated that around 20% of his 100 acres of planted vines were covered with the red retardant that was dropped to fight the fire. The slurry drifted in the wind between plane and ground, coating portions of multiple blocks.

“I don’t know exactly to what extent it’s past the red mark,” Merlo said, referring to the visible line of dropped retardant.

Merlo reluctantly talked about retardant on his vines. Smoke and retardant exposure to grapes have become taboo topics for growers and vintners, who have said they worry about how critics and consumers will perceive current and future vintages.

While no wineries burned in the Point Fire, a rep for the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley association did tell me that some grapevines were likewise destroyed at Bella Vineyards & Wine Caves. But I’m not sure whether the culprit at Bella was the fire or the retardant.

This stark, neon substance has become a hallmark of fresh burn scars. During the Walbridge Fire in the hills west of Healdsburg circa 2020, I remember that stuff got sprayed all over my neighbors’ solar panels, rendering them ineffective. (Hard to care too much about that, though, when your home is still standing.)

Cal Fire again used it amply in the Toll Fire fight over near Calistoga yesterday. Press Democrat photographer Kent Porter took some pretty wild pics of planes dropping the retardant on country homes in the Toll Fire’s path.

Environmental groups have raised concerns in recent years about what all this pink fire retardant falling from the sky is doing to America’s waterways. And while federal officials have acknowledged it’s probably a violation of the Clean Water Act, so far they think the benefits are worth it. Read more in the PD.

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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.



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