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Napa County rural bar survives Hennessey wildfire

As flames spread the afternoon of Aug. 18 around the intersection of Highway 128 at Knoxville Road, it didn't look good for the Turtle Rock Bar and Cafe.

By around 2:30 p.m., the longtime rural hangout was in the cross-hairs of the Hennessey Fire.

"It was just us" at that point, recalled Pete Leung, the bar's owner.

There were no fire crews or helicopters on site yet, and the winds were blowing about 40 mph, said Leung on Aug. 19. "The wind and smoke was coming right at us."

"The Turtle Rock motel (across the street) looked like it was catching on fire," Leung said. He was very much afraid that if that went up in flames, his bar would be next.

But Leung, 43, was determined to save his family business.

And he had one big advantage: his own 2,600-gallon water tank, pump and fire hoses. The equipment was installed after the 2017 wildfires hit the area, he said.

Friends and neighbors jumped in to help. Then, a strike crew arrived" and they started hammering" away at the fire.

Their job was likely made easier because Leung had also cleared more defensible space around his property, located at 2000 Capell Valley Road.

"It works," he said about the fire prevention strategy of clearing brush and trees from around buildings and structures. "And it saved us."

The flames "blew over us," sparing the bar and motel (which is owned by someone else).

"We made it through," he said. "We were very fortunate."

In the moment of the firefight, there's a lot of anxiety and adrenaline, he said.

There's no time to think. "We've been though it before — three years ago," he said. "You just do what you gotta do and hope for the best."

Reached by phone on Wednesday around noon, Leung said he was doing OK. He'd gotten a few hours of sleep starting at around 4:30 a.m.

"We survived another one," said Leung. "I don't know how, but we did. Someone is looking out for us."

When asked about remaining in an area that seems to be prone to wildfires, Leung didn't hesitate. His family has lived in the area for 40 years. His home — also safe — is just minutes away.

"The cafe is my livelihood…. And if that goes then my livelihood is gone," he said.

"I don't think the county would let me replace that building" where it is now, he said. "If that goes, Turtle Rock is gone forever."

His oldest son, age 11, stayed with Leung to help fight the fire.

"He was pretty frightened," said Leung, but the experience is valuable. He needs to know what to expect when you live in such an area, said Leung.

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