Monday, October 22, 2007

A ray of sunshine among the ruins: Orfila Vineyards escapes flames

Posted @ 3:02 PM

Amid all the heartache, winemaker Leon Santoro had just told his fire story and said, "Now, maybe you have a happy story to tell."

He had related how one of the wildfires had raced early yesterday morning toward his Orfila Vineyards, at 13455 San Pasqual Road in Escondido, and at the last minute suddenly skirted the acreage.

"As far as we know we made it ... by about 10 feet," he said.

The end of the harvest was a week behind him but most of the vines still had a fire-resistant spark of life ... moisture ... left in them, Santoro said. At risk on the property was the season's production: 100,000 gallons of wine in tanks and 5,000 cases.

For Santoro, 57, it was the second time the vineyard had been spared from a destructive wildfire. The Cedar fire of 2003 came within sight.

But this time, the threat was much worse.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Santoro, a native of Italy. "It is different than on TV. TV is flat. You could feel the danger, from the hot wind that pushed the fire."

Santoro had been summoned at 3 a.m. Monday to the 70-acre vineyard by an employee who told him, "You better get here. It's coming down the mountain."

By the time he arrived from his home six miles away, Santoro was confronting a firestorm. He had been surprised to find the road to the winery still open. He had put his car in reverse and backed in, hoping the smoke wouldn't disable his engine."

"It came down the mountain, across the river. One of the hills opposite caught fire, and then it came to about 10 feet on one side of the winery, just beyond the Sangiovese vines.

The wind-whipped flames left him a spectator in hell.

"I could see only 10 feet," he said. "I got closer than I should have. There was nothing we could do." Around him, he could hear transformers popping on power lines, creating mini-lightning storms.

When the danger had passed, Santoro left about 5:30 a.m., after the fire had jumped across the nearby Vineyard at Escondido golf course.

"We were extremely lucky," Santoro said. "I had never seen anything like it. I hope this is it."

Monday afternoon, Santoro was hoping to return to the still off-limits site.

"I'm keeping my fingers crossed. It looks like we made it through without a problem," he said.

- Carl Larsen

No comments: