Napa Earthquake: Wine Country Shaken but not Stirred

The strongest earthquake to hit Northern California in 25 years occurred Sunday August 24th at 3:20am.  The magnitude 6.0 earthquake was located near American Canyon, CA, approximately 6 miles south of the city of Napa.

Building at corner of Second and Brown Streets damaged from Napa earthquake. Courtesy of

 Early Morning Devastation

The pre-dawn trembler woke many area residents from their sleep, and individuals all across the Bay Area felt the impact with nearly nine million people experiencing the tremors.  Initially, 70,000 customers lost electricity, but by Monday morning only 2,200 were left without power reported the electric company Pacific Gas & Electric.  In addition, multiple water lines were ruptured during the event, and it may take a week to have them all repaired said Napa Public Works Director Jack Rochelle. However, “Running water is safe to drink,” stated Rochelle. Napa Division Fire Chief John Callanan told reporters that the earthquake spurred six major fires that destroyed multiple mobile homes in the area.  Some of these fires were caused by broken gas lines.  There were 20 gas distribution “outages,” and utility team are responding to several hundred “gas odor” calls. Amtrak suspended its train service through the Bay Area so tracks could be inspected. Governor Jerry Brown has declared a State of Emergency.

Firefighters spray foam on a fire at a mobile home. Courtesy of

Multiple Injuries

Queen of the Valley Medical Center, the regional hospital in Napa, provided treatment to 172 patients after the temblor and hospitalized 13, according to hospital CEO Walt Mickens. May patients were treated for minor abrasions and lacerations, but at least three were admitted for fractures and two for heart attacks.  At least three people were in critical condition after the quake, officials said.  A 13-year-old boy sustained multiple injuries when a fireplace fell on him, and he was airlifted to the University of California-Davis hospital for surgery.  Fortunately, there were no deaths due to the earthquake.

Steve Smith was injured by falling fish tank and treated at Queen of the Valley Medical center. Courtesy of

Economic & Infrastructure Impact

The Napa region has 789 wineries that produced 49.7 million cases of wine in 2011, based on a study by Stonebridge Research. The study concluded that Napa wine production has a $13 billion economic impact in the county, $26 billion in California, and $50 billion in the U.S.  Many of these facilities were affect by Sunday’s earthquake, and growers are in the middle of a major harvest that has arrived several weeks earlier than expected due to drought conditions. The temblor came as the wine industry is harvesting mostly pinot noir and white wine grapes. The heavier reds, merlot and cabernet, will be harvested in a few weeks.

Sutter Home Winery employee Jorge Orozco said that his company stores 4,000 or 5,000 barrels of wine in the Napa Barrel Care warehouse outside of downtown Napa. He is worried about how the barrels fared. “From what I saw, it doesn’t look pretty in there,” he said. “There are hills of barrels on the floor. Wine spilled on the ground.”

Wine bottles fallen off the shelves. Courtesy of


Fallen wine barrels. Courtesy of

Approximately 90 homes and 33 commercial buildings have been labeled “red-tags,” which means they are currently uninhabitable.  Estimates are that economic losses will be more than $100 million.

Immediate Aftermath

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reported the quake is likely to result in 30 to 70 small aftershocks with magnitudes 3 to 5 within the coming week. There is a 54% probability of a strong and possibly damaging aftershock with a magnitude of 5 or greater in the next week the USGS said. The Napa quake is the strongest one to occur in the USA outside Alaska this year.

Historical Context

The Napa earthquake comes nearly 25 years after the devastating October 17, 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that was a 6.9 magnitude event causing 3,757 injuries and 63 deaths.  That 1989 Bay Area earthquake occurred in the middle of a World Series game between two Bay Area teams: San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics.  It also damaged the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and caused over $6 Billion damages.

Bay Bridge damage due to 1989 quake. Courtesy of


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