A California​ ​inmate​ ​firefighter during​ ​a​ ​backfiring​ ​operation​ ​in​ ​the​ ​hills of​ ​Oakmont​​ ​east​ ​of​ ​state Route ​12 on Oct. 17, 2017.

Photographer: Philip Montgomery for Bloomberg Businessweek

Fighting the Fires in Wine Country

The damage to the industry, which was almost completely shut down, has yet to be fully calculated, but these pictures tell the tale.

You can finally see the stars in the night sky again, more than a week after wildfires ravaged seven counties in Northern California’s wine country, blocking off the sky in the region for days. Almost all the fires are now contained. But the costs have been immense: at least 41 people found dead, with almost half that toll in the town of Santa Rosa; close to 6,000 structures destroyed; and more than 245,000 acres scorched. At least 11,000 firefighters—including 1,700 minimum security inmates who volunteer to help with forest services—worked the fire lines.

The damage to the area’s wine industry, which was almost completely shut down by the fires, has yet to be fully calculated. There was fear that vineyards may have been destroyed by the flames. (The harvest had been mostly completed in many of the fields.) There was also concern about the effect of smoke on the grapes. Still, says Kelly Carter of Alpha Omega Winery in Rutherford, about 20 miles from Santa Rosa, “We’re getting back to normal. My winery and many others have opened. I smell grapes being harvested and processed.”

A firefighter with the Long Beach Fire Department jumps from a wall to avoid flames.
Photographer: Philip Montgomery for Bloomberg Businessweek
California inmate firefighters during the backfiring operation.
Photographer: Philip Montgomery for Bloomberg Businessweek
California inmate firefighter Trevor Konopka after the operation.  
Photographer: Philip Montgomery for Bloomberg Businessweek
A firefighter with the Long Beach Fire Department during the backfiring operation. 
Photographer: Philip Montgomery for Bloomberg Businessweek
With helicopters overhead, emergency crews make their way through Coffey Park, a middle-class residential area of northern Santa Rosa that was destroyed by the Tubbs Fire.
Photographer: Philip Montgomery for Bloomberg Businessweek
A firefighter with the Long Beach Fire Department sprays water on a fire in the Oakmont hills.
Photographer: Philip Montgomery for Bloomberg Businessweek
A California inmate firefighter takes a break.
Photographer: Philip Montgomery for Bloomberg Businessweek
California inmate firefighter Jon Hooker during the hotspotting operation. 
Photographer: Philip Montgomery for Bloomberg Businessweek
California firefighters during the backfiring operation.
Photographer: Philip Montgomery for Bloomberg Businessweek
California inmate firefighters after the operation. 
Photographer: Philip Montgomery for Bloomberg Businessweek
California inmate firefighter Rashaad Brooks takes a break.
Photographer: Philip Montgomery for Bloomberg Businessweek
A resident displaced by the Northern California fires sleeps on a cot at a shelter at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.
Photographer: Philip Montgomery for Bloomberg Businessweek
Fountaingrove, a residential area of Santa Rosa, was destroyed by the Tubbs Fire.
Photographer: Philip Montgomery for Bloomberg Businessweek
“All my friends were from here. … I didn’t expect it to hit me like this,” local firefighter Derrick Alvestal said during a visit to Coffey Park. Alvestal was in tears sitting in front of a memorial for his brother, who died in 2007. The memorial had remained intact. Coffey Park, a middle-class residential area in northern Santa Rosa, was destroyed by the Tubbs Fire. 
Photographer: Philip Montgomery for Bloomberg Businessweek
California inmate firefighters during the backfiring operation. 
Photographer: Philip Montgomery for Bloomberg Businessweek
Vineyards sit at the base of the burning Oakmont hills just east of Route 12. 
Photographer: Philip Montgomery for Bloomberg Businessweek
Wildfires Are Burning Northern California’s Wine Country