Canyon Fire forces evacuations near Lake Berryessa

A Napa County wildfire- among the first of the season- got an aggressive response Monday and was 60 percent contained by nightfall. 

The Canyon Fire broke out in steep terrain along Highway 128 south of Lake Berryessa. By 6 p.m. its forward progress had been stopped, its size holding at 55 acres.

"Well it's always been our goal to keep all fires small," CalFire Deputy Chief Geoff Belyea told KTVU, explaining that several factors were in firefighters' favor, including mild winds and abundant aircraft to call on. 

"We had a lot of resources that were available, because we don't have large fires burning in other parts of the state," said Belyea, who is also the Fire Chief for Napa County. 

At its peak, the fire had five air tankers and three helicopters dedicated to it. For several hours, they made pass after pass, boxing the fire in as it made runs on steep hillsides. 

The smoke was visible from the city of Napa, and in St. Helena, 15 miles to the west. After the past few years of explosive fires, Deputy Chief Belyea says he understands public awareness is high. 

"People need to realize that just because a fire starts, not every fire is going to be devastating like those we've seen the last several years."

The fire closed Highway 128 from Capell Valley Road to Markley Cove, in the Berryessa Highlands. 
"This was a lot better than the last fire," said Judy Dunlap, clerk at the marina market. "I guess we can't expect all of them to get out of control like that." 

Dunlap was referring to the Wragg Fire, in July 2015, which burned for two weeks in the Berryessa area, and scorched more than 6,000 acres. It was caused by a car's muffler coming into contact with dry grass.  Most boaters were already on the water when the Canyon Fire started. The store remained open, as the air attack buzzed nearby. 

"They were on it before I even knew it was a fire," said Dunlap, "so I saw the airplane before I saw the smoke, so that was good, really good."  

Nine households were advised to evacuate, as their homes are tucked into the woodsy terrain off Highway 128. 

"Just a couple hours ago, the Sheriff showed up and said we had to evacuate so tha'ts what we're doing." said Pat Carpenter, who towed a boat and trailer full ot tools and supplies from his property to the roadside.

He and family members were waiting for the all clear. 

"I don't think the fire is going to get to my place, but just in case it does, better to be safe than sorry," said Carpenter. 

His parents and sister had arrived in their vehicles to help. 

"I've seen this area burned three times in my lifetime," said his father Ken, "so it doesn't surprise me, when the brush and grass gets so big, once it starts, it's hard to put out." 

The fuels provided another break for firefighters. After a wet winter and relatively mild summer, the vegetation is retaining some moisture so fire doesn't spread as fast. But those conditions- favorable now- aren't likely to last. 

"If we get prolonged periods of extremely high heat and large-scale winds, that could rapidly dry out the vegetation," warned Belyea, " but we've had fuel conditions and weather that have helped us be successful so far this year."

The Highway 128 closure remained in effect overnight, as crews worked to fortify containment lines in the hills, while temperatures were cool. 

The cause of the Canyon Fire is under investigation, although CalFire investigators had cordoned off a spot near the highway shoulder, which may have been the fire's area of origin.