As evacuations are lifted in Calistoga, some remain on edge: ‘We’re still not not out of the woods’

Authorities have lifted evacuations in Calistoga, but some residents remain wary of wildfire.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Things went too bad too fast with the wine country fires for Mark Skinner to think he can relax now that evacuation orders in Calistoga have been lifted.

All he has to do is face southwest and point.

In the distance — but not that far away — smoke continues to rise as stubborn flames burn through the forest separating Sonoma and Napa counties.

His home, on the outskirts of Calistoga off Petrified Forest Road and Sharp Road, was less than 200 yards from the Tubbs fire on Oct. 8. The wildfire has scorched 36,390 acres and killed at least 22 people.


Like so many others in wine country that night, Skinner and his family didn’t hesitate to flee as the red glow approached and black smoke smothered their property.

Friends in Napa Valley called him frantically: “Hey, you’ve got to get out of there!”

So he woke up his wife and son, scooped up his 17-year-old Jack Russell terrier, Skitch, and fled.

Mark and Nick Skinner, standing next to an American flag made out of a fire hose.
(Joseph Serna / Los Angeles Times )

“Everyone says embers were flying. There were branches on fire, flying through the air,” said Skinner, the general manager of Calistoga’s Von Strasser Winery.

They sped down to the winery in north Napa Valley.

“That first night the wind, smacking against the house,” said Nick Skinner, Mark’s son. “You could feel it hit the house.”

They stayed in the winery offices until Wednesday and tried to sleep on the floor. But then all of Calistoga was evacuated.


“There’s a point where you’re just numb. I don’t know what to do,” Nick Skinner said.

The evacuations were finally lifted Sunday, and officials said all homes in Calistoga were spared. As of Monday afternoon, the Tubbs fire was 70% contained.

Though Napa County officials say all of Calistoga is open to residents, the Skinners, who live just feet from the fire’s extinguished perimeter, say roads leading to home are still blocked.

On Monday afternoon, Skinner and his son arrived at their winery to prepare to reopen it. They’ll open the tasting room Tuesday but don’t know if they’ll have customers.


A hotel around the corner from the winery, typically booked solid this time of year, was almost completely vacant.

“It’s going to take some time for us to recover economically,” Nick Skinner said. “Luckily, 90% of our vineyards have already been harvested.”

His father, wearing jeans and a Golden State Warriors T-shirt because it “was the last one in the suitcase,” has been keeping tabs on his home through Calistoga officials and firefighters stationed nearby.

He’s thankful that his home survived, but remains wary of the blaze.


“It’s still moving north,” he said. “We’re still not not out of the woods where we live.”

Twitter: @JosephSerna