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California wildfires threaten towns, wineries in dangerous weekend

CALISTOGA, Calif., Oct 2 (Reuters) - California fire crews deploying water-dropping helicopters made a defensive stand on Friday against flames raging in the foothills of the Napa Valley wine region as forecasts called for a return of high winds and hot weather over the weekend.

More than 2,500 firefighters were battling the Glass Fire, which broke out on Sunday near the resort community of Calistoga, some 75 miles (120 km) north of San Francisco. It was only about 5 percent contained as of Friday afternoon.

The blaze has already destroyed 248 homes and other structures, including the stately Chateau Boswell Winery and a farmhouse containing fermentation, bottling and storage facilities at the landmark Castello di Amorosa winery. That winery’s castle-like main building survived.

At some wineries employees themselves stood guard with bulldozers and water tankers on Friday, hoping to serve as a desperate last line of defense for structures and crops, according to a Reuters photographer.

The Newton Vineyard winery went up in flames on Wednesday, according to the photographer, who saw rivulets of red wine mixed with ash flowing down its main access road.

Vintners feared that the smoke alone had spoiled much of this year’s vintage.

RED FLAG WARNINGS

Roughly 52,000 residents were under evacuation orders at least through the weekend. The National Weather Service issued red flag warnings for high winds over the next two days, although gusts remained relatively calm overnight.

Rain storms were forecast in Northern California for the end of next week and gave firefighters hope that if they could hold off the flames that long the showers could deliver the knockout blow.

“It’s going to be a big firefight for us in the next 36 hours,” Cal Fire operations section chief Mark Brunton said on Thursday. Commanders had limited resources due a string of fires burning across the state, he said.

In Southern California, crews reported making significant progress against the Zogg Fire, 200 miles (321.87 km) to the north in the foothills of the Cascade mountain range. Containment had reached 46% as of Friday afternoon, up from 26% a day earlier.

Four people have been killed in the Zogg fire, which also has destroyed nearly 150 buildings near the town of Redding.

At least 30 people have died in since mid-August in a devastating string of wildfires across the U.S. West this summer, stoked by increasingly frequent, prolonged bouts of extreme heat, winds and dry-lightning storms that scientists attribute to climate change.

No casualties have been reported in the Glass Fire but officials say several nearby communities, including Angwin, Pope Valley and Oakville, as well as wineries and properties along the valley floor were in harm’s way.

California fires have scorched nearly 6,100 square miles acres (15,800 square km) since January, more than three times the land mass of Delaware and far exceeding the acreage burned during any previous year on record. (Writing and additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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