Last October, firefighter Ryan Bellanca and his crew battled to keep the raging Glass Fire from devastating an upmarket Napa Valley vineyard.
But Bellanca wasn’t working for any fire department. He owns a private company that had been hired to protect the vineyard.
Authorities from Cal Fire and the Napa County Sheriff’s office eventually stepped in and detained the private firefighters for several hours, according to Bellanca and a sheriff’s office report. Bellanca said Cal Fire accused his crew of lighting dangerous backfires and failing to leave an evacuated area.
Bellanca denies lighting backfires — which consume fuel in a wildfire’s path — but admits his team failed to advise Cal Fire, the state’s fire agency, that it was in the evacuated area, as required by law.
“It was the fog of war,” said Bellanca, CEO and owner of Bella Wildfire & Forestry. “But we saved an entire mountain that Cal Fire thought was gone. Cal Fire wants it to be just them. If they can set precedent with kicking us out, then they can tell anybody to leave.”