Cal­is­toga: Classic tourist mecca sadly be­comes near-ghost town

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - WINE COUNTRY FIRES - By Marissa Lang and Sam Whit­ing Marissa Lang and Sam Whit­ing are San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writ­ers. Email: mlang@ sfchron­i­cle.com; swhit­ing@ sfchron­i­cle.com

In the mid­day haze, a lone fig­ure wear­ing a mask and neon safety vest walked down the yel­low lines di­vid­ing the empty main street of Cal­is­toga.

It was Mayor Chris Can­ning. He was mak­ing house calls. About 40 peo­ple de­fied an all-city manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­der is­sued Wed­nes­day to spend the night in their homes, to sleep in their beds. By Thurs­day af­ter­noon, about half of the hold­outs had gone, leav­ing roughly 15 re­main­ing res­i­dents in a town with a pop­u­la­tion of 5,400.

Neon X’s spray-painted on the front walk­ways of homes marked the spots where res­i­dents had re­fused to leave, even af­ter sev­eral vis­its from au­thor­i­ties. First came the fire­fight­ers. Then po­lice and cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers. Now, it was Can­ning’s turn. He didn’t mince words.

“This is your of­fi­cial no­tice that, if you stay, no re­sources will be ex­erted to en­sure your safety,” the mayor said he told res­i­dents. “And if, af­ter all of this, you choose to stay, you bet­ter not get in the way of our first re­spon­ders.”

Cal­is­toga, at the top of the Napa Val­ley, was at the bot­tom of the Tubbs Fire, which had burned 34,000 acres and was only 10 per­cent con­tained as of Thurs­day af­ter­noon, ac­cord­ing to Cal Fire. As the Tubbs Fire pressed south­east into Cal­is­toga, the At­las Fire, 31 miles away, con­tin­ued on its path as well, burn­ing across Napa and Solano Coun­ties. It had con­sumed 43,000 acres and was only 3 per­cent con­tained as of Thurs­day af­ter­noon.

Between those fires sits St. He­lena, which was un­der a non­manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­der. On Thurs­day, things looked up and so did the res­i­dents who chose not to evac­u­ate.

“To­day is good. We can see blue sky. The last three days, we couldn’t see any­thing,” said Jeff War­ren, grand­son of the late Supreme Court Chief Jus­tice Earl War­ren, and a St. He­lena res­i­dent since 1959. War­ren had elec­tric­ity for the first time all week and he had water, which he was ap­ply­ing via sprin­klers on the lawn of his 1883 Vic­to­rian.

“St. He­lena has never burned in 150 years,” said War­ren, who re­mem­bers the close call of the Han­ley Fire, which burned 52,000 acres and de­stroyed 84 homes, af­ter a hunter flicked his cig­a­rette ash on the slopes of Mount St. He­lena on Sept. 19, 1964.

“I think this town is go­ing to be fine,” War­ren said.

Af­ter be­ing closed all week, Farm­stead at Long Meadow Ranch re­opened for din­ner on Main Street in St. He­lena, though one of the res­tau­rant man­agers had lost his home in the Santa Rosa Fire, and a few oth­ers had to com­mute from evac­u­a­tion cen­ters.

“For the lo­cal com­mu­nity, there is nowhere else to go at the mo­ment,” pro­pri­etor Chris Hall said. “Farm­stead is a lo­cal gath­er­ing place and we felt it im­por­tant to pro­vide that to the com­mu­nity while ev­ery­body is deal­ing with the dev­as­ta­tion.”

Mean­while, noth­ing was open in Cal­is­toga, just 8 miles up High­way 29. Now and then, a fire truck or po­lice cruiser rolled down Lin­coln Av­enue, the main drag. The Cal­is­toga Fire Depart­ment has 13 fire­fight­ers, bol­stered by backup from the St. He­lena Fire Depart­ment, the Colton Fire Depart­ment in San Bernardino County and the Mur­ri­eta Fire Depart­ment in River­side County.

Mo­tor­cy­cle cops on loan from Oakland, did traf­fic con­trol and a Cal­i­for­nia High­way Pa­trol he­li­copter flew over­head.

The only civil­ian on foot was Mayor Can­ning, in his mask and yel­low safety vest. The fire was in the hills, but he did not trust it to stay there.

“It’s now mov­ing in a di­rec­tion we do not ap­pre­ci­ate,” he said.

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