Napa Locals Go ”cowboy,” Bulldozing Firebreaks To Save Wineries As Resources Wane

Posted: Aug 28, 2020

Matt Weinert is used to driving a bulldozer through rugged terrain. As the owner of High Demand Earth Work in Napa Valley, he specializes in clearing land so that vineyards can be planted. But now, Weinert can add another special skill to his bulldozing resume: stopping wildfires.

When the Hennessey Fire ignited in Napa’s eastern hillsides on Aug. 17, Weinert and his crew were at Ovid Vineyards, in the middle of a job clearing 25 acres of rock for a new vineyard. Suddenly, they could spot smoke rising from the other end of Pritchard Hill, behind Chappellet Winery.

The Ovid team reached out to Cal Fire, but “with so many fires up and down the state, we knew they’d be stretched pretty thin,” said General Manager Jack Bittner. It soon became clear that if they wanted to keep the Hennessey Fire from advancing, they would have to fight it themselves.

“We didn’t have any expectation that the cavalry was coming,” Bittner said.

What Weinert and a neighboring vineyard-development crew accomplished over the next few days was extraordinary: Using their bulldozers, they cleared chaparral, brush and other vegetation to create a nearly 4-mile firebreak across Pritchard Hill. They saved some of Napa’s most prestigious wineries like Chappellet, Ovid, Colgin, Bryant and Continuum — and kept the fire from moving further into Napa Valley.

By Esther Mobley
August 28, 2020

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