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California Wineries Shut as Fire Tears Through Sonoma County

Hailey Waller

(Bloomberg) -- Major California wineries including one owned by Francis Ford Coppola are bracing for long closures as power remains cut amid efforts to staunch fires raging through the state’s wine-producing region.

Only 10% contained, the Kincade fire has swept through about 25,455 acres -- an area bigger than Manhattan -- burning about 50 homes and buildings so far.

The wildfire that erupted minutes after a PG&E Corp. power line went down has triggered a historic evacuation with state and county emergency responders calling on tens of thousands of people to flee their homes by Saturday afternoon. Some 2.8 million Californians may lose power.

“Significant” portions of Sonoma County were told to evacuate quickly before PG&E carries out a blackout that will plunge millions into darkness to prevent more wildfires from breaking out.

Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said at a media briefing Saturday that the evacuations are the largest he’s seen in the more than two decades that he’s been with the sheriff’s office -- more extensive than the ones triggered by the devastating 2017 fires.

He urged residents to leave immediately before the fire grows even more rapidly. “We’d like to get you out while we still have power and we still have communications,” he said.

Two wineries in the region owned by Coppola, a five-time Oscar winner, aren’t in immediate danger, but closed their doors Thursday because of smoky air. Its Sunday Halloween carnival was also canceled, but its grapes are safe.

“The winery has harvested the majority of our vineyards,” said Corey Beck, Coppola’s chief executive. “The grapes are in production at the winery where we currently have available back-up power if needed.”

Five minutes up Highway 101, Trione Vineyards & Winery will stay closed until at least Monday. That’s the longest ever because of a fire, a spokeswoman said.

“We had a wedding Saturday, and they’ve moved to a San Francisco location,” she said. They closed for the 2017 fires because staff and owners lived in affected areas.

The National Weather Service is projecting wind guts of up to 80 miles per hour in areas around the fire, and a thicker layer of smoke is likely to push into parts of the the Bay Area this evening.

California is the world’s fourth-largest wine producer and source of about 80% of U.S.-made wine, according to the Wine Institute. Home to 3,900 wineries and 5,900 grape growers, the state lures 24 million visitors annually to its wine regions, the most in the nation.

Bankrupt utility PG&E Corp. has started cutting power in what would be the state’s largest -- and potentially longest -- deliberate blackout ever. California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency Friday, largely blaming PG&E.

“We will hold them accountable for the business interruption and costs associated with these blackouts,” he said in a news conference. “We will do the same with the other two investor-owned utilities in Southern California.”

(Updates with Sonoma County Sheriff comments from media briefing and other details throughout.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Hailey Waller in New York at hwaller@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: James Ludden at jludden@bloomberg.net, Ian Fisher, Linus Chua

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