Threats of powerful wind gusts and critically low humidity in the Bay Area expanded fears on Saturday morning that the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County could reach Healdsburg, a quaint city of 11,000 best known for its wine and culinary offerings.
Residents in both Healdsburg and Windsor, a city of 27,000 a few miles south, were given until 4 p.m. to leave the area out of precaution while firefighters work to contain the flames.
Until Saturday, the evacuations had been limited to about 2,000 people living in and around Geyserville.
“The fire is burning in remote, steep terrain, making access difficult and slow due to narrow roads,” Cal Fire said in a Saturday morning statement.
Sonoma and Napa counties are best known for their vineyards, and for good reason. The California wine industry boasts a $114 billion contribution to the U.S. economy and attracts more than 23 million tourists each year, according to the Wine Institute.
Among those tourists’ favorite stops: Healdsburg.
Location, location, location
The small Sonoma County town sits 15 miles north of Santa Rosa and 70 from San Francisco. It also straddles three wine-producing regions, according to Sonoma County Tourism’s website, rendering Healdsburg the beating heart of the area’s tourism industry.
“Nestled along the Russian River in the heart of Sonoma Wine Country,” the tourism site reads, “Healdsburg combines small-town charm, stunning vistas, and award-winning vintages with an eclectic mix centered around a charming town plaza lined with shops, restaurants, tasting rooms, galleries, and bars.”
The city’s sweet appeal is complemented by rustic bed-and-breakfasts, cooking classes and boutique shopping.
Pop the cork
Healdsburg’s prime location affords residents and tourists alike immediate proximity to more than 60 wineries, where wine enthusiasts can book tastings at dozens of locations with views of rolling hills and lush vineyards in the background.
Vineyards separate themselves from their competitors and neighboring Napa not only with their grapes, but by their brick-and-mortar tasting rooms. Stone houses, log cabins and mansions dot Healdsburg, evoking Tuscan tones in the Northern California town.
“We like to say we focus on just three things: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and hospitality,” reads the website for the award-winning Jordan Winery. “Our winemaking emphasizes the wine’s fruit and acidity rather than alcohol and tannin, and achieving elegance and balance in the bottle drives all that we do in our vineyards and cellar.”
In quintessential small-town fashion, the historic Healdsburg Plaza sits at the enter of the city.
The plaza — complete with a gazebo, trees, benches and surrounding greenery — hosts a variety of events that include a “picnic in the plaza,” a Día De Los Muertos celebration and kid-friendly summer movie and game nights.
Surrounding the plaza are charming bookstores, coffee shops, art galleries, bakeries and tasting rooms.
“It’s no wonder Healdsburg is considered one of the best small towns in the country to visit,” Sonoma.com advertises. “A big part of Healdsburg’s allure is the 19th century plaza set in the heart of downtown, so if you’re a wine enthusiast, foodie, or just enjoy great shopping, Healdsburg Plaza is a wonderful place to park the car and explore on foot.”
Bike tours can also be booked for active visitors on a tour wishing to explore the redwoods and the Pacific Coast. But if you want to stick close to town, there’s the Erickson Fine Art Gallery, and The Healdsburg Museum & Historical Society is worth a visit to learn about the Western Wappo and Southern Pomo-speaking people who lived on the land for thousands of years.
Chances are a perfect pour is likely to accompany a superb meal at one of Healdsburg’s many high-class restaurants.
“From coffee to deli, bakery to bistro, picnic to world-class cuisine, meals are highlighted by the finest wines from premium quality Sonoma wineries,” the city’s Chamber of Commerce claims.
There’s the artisanal Oakville Grocery, a store founded in 1881 that carries craft sauces, oils and pickled goods.
And the trendy Spoonbar blends “alchemy and craft” to deliver a colorful dinner and cocktail menu to be enjoyed in a dining area complete with a “three-dimensional art floating in a golden splash along the wall.”
Tourists can only hope to save room for a pastry at Costeaux French Bakery, where a signature dessert includes a chocolate decadence torte.
And if wine’s not your thing, visitors can kick it casual at Bear Republic Brewing for some chili cheese fries and craft beer.
So far, Healdsburg residents are under order to evacuate for precaution. Wind conditions and low humidity are concerning officials that the flames could reach the city.
The 2017 Tubbs Fire burned through Santa Rosa, killing 22 people. In efforts to prevent another catastrophe, first responders are working to contain the flames with more than 2,000 personnel on the ground.
City spokeswoman Rhea Borja said the mandatory evacuation order was issued in enough time to allow residents until 4 p.m. to clear out of the city.
“We are really emphasizing to people that its only 11 a.m., and they have a few hours to prepare,” Borja said. “Do not panic. Southbound 101 may be congested due to the amount of people heading away, so be patient.”