---Please share with anyone who lost a home in recent fires---

Neighbors helping neighbors! If you lost your home in the recent fires, please feel free to drop by the Berryessa Strong Outpost at The Corners. Dozen's of neighbors have donated thousands of great items... all FREE for fire victims.

There are tons of great items for kids and all, so stop by and grab a lot if you need a lot. Or at the very least, grab an item or two for the kids or the house just as a reminder that your neighbors are here for ya during this tough time. Check out all the pictures below to see if they have anything you could use!



SUNDAY: Noon - 4PM

All other weekends in Oct, Nov, Dec :


LOCATION: 6008 Steele Canyon Rd at the Corners.

Berryessa Strong Outpost
Berryessa Strong Outpost1

More photos of good stuff at: 



And the good news is...Lake Berryessa is opening up!

 This is the plan that was announced by Reclamation today.

1. The Reopening Plan is based on safe access to the lake (Roads and Caltrans), concession contractors being ready to open logistically, and safety of the Recreation Areas and the lake.

2. Putting out floating toilets, land and lake assessments, staffing, hazard tree removal, power outages, pole and line replacement (PG&E).

3.1 October 23 - CONCESSION AREAS - Slip rental access and use, boat rentals (including Lake Berryessa Boat and Jet Ski Rentals), Boat Launching, Day Use Sites.

3.2 October 24 - RECLAMATION AREAS- Capell Launch Ramp, South Oak Shores, Eticuera, Pope Bridge Parking lot, dispersed areas.

3.3 October 30- CONCESSIONS- Camping, Cabins

4. COVID- Recreation sites opening still under the guidance from the State/Napa County Health officer.

5. Napa County MPA - Working on a possible extension for Spanish Flat and Steele Canyon Recreation Areas until Napa has the ability to manage.

6. Steele Canyon - The boat slips are being demolished. The docks are in poor condition and have sustained some damage. If the Suntex contract is extended they plan to replace them.

7. Putah Canyon Recreation Area new contract: This is a 10 year contract to allow more time to invest and upgraded facilities..... includes partial hookups for RVs (electricity), Royal Elk Management is looking into the possibility of a self contained fueling system on land, boat slips, a store and additional amenities.

8. Reclamation Managed Areas not opening due to safety concerns (tree hazards) - North Oak Shores, Smittle Creek.

9. Boat slip access is approved currently by appointment only with the concession managers.


Private Debris and Ash Removal (DAR) Update


As Napa County moves into the recovery phase from the Hennessey and Glass wildfires, the safe and appropriate removal of debris and ash is a County priority.

Debris and ash from residential and commercial fires are likely hazardous and may contain toxic substances due to the presence of synthetic and hazardous materials. Household hazardous waste such as gasoline, cleaning products, pesticides, and other chemicals may have been stored in homes, garages, or sheds that burned.  These materials can become concentrated in the ash and soil that is left after a fire. Sifting through ash and debris, can cause these toxic substances to become airborne and inhaled or ingested.

The State of California has announced that there will be a public debris removal program for residential properties impacted by the Hennessey Fire. Details about both the public and private option for Phase II debris removal for Hennessey Fire-impacted households will be released as soon as they become available. The County continues to work with state and federal partners to identify support for Phase I and Phase II for residential property owners impacted by the Glass Fire.

Non-Residential property owners (including businesses, non-profit organizations, and public institutions) are generally not eligible to participate in government funded debris and ash removal programs.  The County has requested that State and Federal agencies include these non-residential properties in the government program.  At this time, the County has been advised that a government program will not be available for non-residential properties located within the Hennessey Fire footprint.  The County has not yet heard back on our request for non-residential properties within the Glass Fire footprint. 

If you are a Non-Residential property owner impacted by the Glass Fire who wants to wait and see if there will be a government program for Phase I and Phase II cleanup, it is important that you do not remove any debris and ash from the property.  Removal of any ash and/or debris will disqualify the property from being included in a government program, if one is approved. 

Non-Residential property owners that wish to conduct private debris and ash removal, at their own expense, may apply to do so now for both the Hennessey Fire and the Glass Fire.  For additional information regarding the Debris and Ash Removal (DAR) Application and Plan, including documents, requirements, and appointment scheduling, please visit: https://www.countyofnapa.org/2074/Fire-Debris-Information. Note: We are taking appointments through our online scheduling system to manage in-person customer traffic due to COVID-19 restrictions.


Lake Berryessa Phased Re-opening Plan

The Bureau of Reclamation is planning a phased re-opening of Lake Berryessa. It is clear that Reclamation knows that the majority of people want the lake open as soon as possible. Reclamation is taking a cautious approach to reopening since there is still a lot of roadwork and tree-cutting being done on the roads around the lake. Safety is the main goal. Patience will be required for those who wish to visit.

They also want to do a phased re-opening so that the there won’t be the same overwhelming burst of traffic and the thousands of visitors coming all at once as happened a few months ago when people from all over the Bay Area were trying to escape the boredom of the COVID lockdown.

If you want to hear the plan and get questions answered, please join the community conference call on Wednesday, October 14th, 1 PM. 

Please call 1-877-923-8021, participant # 6851771

Since there may be many people on this call it might be difficult to communicate clearly. Reclamation asks that you send your questions and comments directly to Nathan Kyle: nkyle@usbr.gov prior to the conference call.

Lake Berryessa is still closed. All Reclamation land and private recreation areas are closed to the public. This means that all access is denied, even for sunbathing, shore fishing, or swimming. It is illegal to park anywhere on the roads around the lake and hike to the shore to picnic, swim, or fish.

Royal Elk Park Management, the present manager of Putah Canyon Recreation Area, may not have been the only bidder. However, its bid was chosen for the 10-year contract to manage Putah Canyon. The contract gives them a reasonable planning horizon to further develop the area. New facilities such as boat docks and food services and possibly even a small gas station are being considered.

The old boat docks at Steele Canyon Recreation Area are being demolished and replaced with new ones. The boat docks are one of the most profitable amenities for all the recreation areas and resorts.


The Fires Will Be Over - Never Forget What Was and What Can Be!

Lake Berryessa: An Untapped Resort Development Opportunity

(Excerpt from the Ragatz Report)


Lake Berryessa is one of the largest and most attractive freshwater lakes in California. The challenge and opportunity are to redevelop the five concession areas, beginning with Steele Canyon, Spanish Flat, and Monticello Shores, into resorts that more appropriately reflect the lifestyle of today's participants in outdoor recreation - higher quality, more variety, greater convenience, more nature-based (but not forgetting the ever-popularity of motor boats and RVs), more family-oriented, etc. 

If more care is given to these important trends, Lake Berryessa has the opportunity to: (1) become a significant year-round destination for the almost 10 million people in the Primary Market Area (PMA); (2) significantly impact the economy of Napa County; (3) be profitable to appropriately selected concessionaires; and (4) do so while maintaining and enhancing the natural environment.

It is not the intent to make Lake Berryessa into a highly-commercialized, over-dense environment. Care must be taken to always balance the criteria of consumer demand, economic gain and protection of Lake Berryessa's beautiful natural setting.

Recommendations for Napa County Policies: Fully balance a sometimes conflicting set of criteria: economic benefits to Napa County, outdoor recreational opportunities for residents of Napa County, the PMA and beyond, preservation and enhancement of the physical environment,and financial profit for the concessionaires. None of the four criteria should dominate the others.

(Editor's Note: This is 2020. We know how to do that!)


The latest edition of the Lake Berryessa News has been published and is available for download at:

LBNews Pg 8&1

October 2020 Edition


Local Assistance Center Open in Napa County 

Individuals, families, and business owners in Napa County affected by the 2020 Glass Fire can begin the process of receiving support through the Napa County Local Assistance Center (LAC). The center will provide "One Stop Information" for local, State, and Federal recovery resources that may become available.

The LAC is located at the County's Health & Human Services campus at 2751 Napa Valley Corporate Drive, Building A. Napa, CA 94558. Services are available in English and Spanish by appointment or through limited first come first served basis. The Center will open Monday through Saturday 6 days a week from 9am to 6pm.



Napa County announces free drive-thru flu shot clinics

Getting vaccinated is more important than ever.

As part of ongoing efforts to prevent a “twindemic” of COVID-19 and seasonal influenza, Napa County Public Health is offering drive-up flu shot clinics starting on October 12th thru November 9th.

“We urge our residents to get vaccinated against the flu now to protect yourself and others, which is especially important during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.” said Dr. Karen Relucio, Napa County Public Health Officer. “The flu can look very similar to COVID-19 and can cause a fever, cough, body aches, chills, and other symptoms.”

Flu vaccination reduces the burden of flu, but also can preserve health care resources for care of patients with COVID-19. Drive-thru flu shots will be offered at five convenient locations throughout the county, including Calistoga, St. Helena, Yountville, Napa and American Canyon. No appointment is necessary and is free of charge.

Flu schedule

For a complete schedule and more information visit: https://www.countyofnapa.org/879/Free-Flu-Vaccine or call: 707-253-4270.

In addition to the flu shot, below are additional measures to stay safe:

• Stay home if you are sick

• Wash your hands, Wear your mask, Watch your distance

• If you have symptoms, get tested for COVID-19

For more information about COVID-19 please visit: www.countyofnapa.org/coronavirus or call: 707-253-4540


What is a Public Insurance Adjuster and Why Might You Need One?

Click here for the full article...


 Lake Level as of 10/12/20

Lake level has dropped to 419.7 feet, 21.3 feet below Glory Hole. Lake level at this time last year was 431.7 feet , 8.3 feet below Glory Hole. But remember that Glory Hole spilled last year and we subsequently had the lowest rainfall season in more than 22 years - only 10.9 inches.

 Water temperature measured at Monticello Dam has dropped below 75 degrees at the surface but remains at 54 degrees at 70 feet and below.

Lake Temps 100820


John Tuteur Discusses The Voting Process in Napa County

In this video, John Tuteur (Napa County Assessor-Recorder-Clerk and Registrar of Voters) discusses how voting works in general in Napa County, as well as some changes and tips specific to 2020 due to COVID-19. He guarantees that your mail-in ballot, drop-off ballot, or in-person vote is safe and secure.




The Lake Berryessa Fire One Month Later… 

What just happened, WHY, and Where do we go from here?

By Evan Kilkus

Volunteer Project Coordinator, Berryessa Highlands Fire Safe Council (BHFSC)

It’s been a month, and we have all been doing a lot of digesting, discussing, stressing, being frustrated sad and/or angry. We have been wondering what is next and how do we move forward after watching a third of our neighborhood, and/or our own homes burn to the ground. I want to take some time to share some thoughts, as a Berryessa Highlands Fire Safe Council neighbor that has volunteered thousands of hours during the last decade creating 5 miles of shaded fuel break in and around our neighborhood in preparation for a forest fire. I want to share this perspective because I don’t want us to miss significant learning opportunities, and I would love to see us focus our strength on outcomes that are achievable and effective.

What Happened?

What happened is somewhat clear. Our neighborhood got slammed by a natural disaster, a predictable forest fire, but bigger than we have ever encountered. And we were not all ready enough for it. Our neighborhood, by the way, is obviously not a city suburb in the middle of a concrete jungle. We all purchased or rent homes in the middle of a forest. On the top of ridges, or the bottom of canyons. Places where nature is beautiful, and unforgiving. The views and tranquility are priceless and enjoyed year round, but they distract us from the natural threat we know exists. Forest fire. Some people take the threat very seriously, while far too many think they an do a little and be ok. What we saw was fire finding the weakest links in our homes, and burning them down.

Homes Remaining Are Homes Saved

Before we get into the frustrating and tragic details of what went wrong, it is very important to recognize and learn from what worked. There are no coincidences in our neighborhood. No standing house is there purely by luck or randomness. Each remaining home is a home saved. Each standing home represents a fight, where firefighters or neighbors stood their ground and fought flames and won. Firefighters and about 20 of our neighbors used existing defensible space to prevent our neighborhood from being wiped off the map.

If it weren’t for the thorough weed-whacking, branch pruning, and overgrown brush removal done by many of you around your homes, the fire that left your back yards black would have turned your homes to ash. I am very thankful that when flames pushed up against and into the neighborhood both days, a handful of homeowners worked independently and/or along side fire fighters to extinguish flames around all their neighbors homes. For sure those residents are the reason many homes still remain.

The significant work done the last 10 years by the Berryessa Highlands Fire Safe Council/Napa County Fire/CALFire allowed firefighters to keep the fire out of the neighborhood completely the first night. On the second day when the fire entered the neighborhood, the work done gave firefighters a lower intensity forest fire to fight, which gave them room to work to save most homes. Without the 10 years of work clearing over 150 acres of brush, our neighborhood would be gone. Despite the extremely frustrating and tragic losses in our neighborhood and Spanish Flat, and scattered around eastern Napa County, it’s worth pointing out that in our greater Berryessa region, hundreds and hundreds of homes were saved in the Berryessa Pines, Berryessa Estates, Circle Oaks, Capell Valley, Pope Valley, Angwin, and Gordon Valley. Saved by firefighters, fire safe projects, residents, ranchers, and farm workers.

Not Blame, But Why Specifically Did The Berryessa Highlands Lose So Many Homes?

While being grateful for all the help we received, I am unhappily forced to come to terms with the fact that the cards were just not in our favor for the no-loss firefight I think we always hoped for. I encourage my friends and neighbors to not be too mad, but be determined to not let this happen again. Here are some factors at the immediate local level that contributed to so much heartbreak.

- Radiant Heat From Neighbor’s House Fire – Many homes coulda/woulda/shoulda made it, but their neighbors houses were on fire for reasons listed below, and the radiant heat caused quick ignition. It pains me to say this, but it needs to be said first, because it really sucks to see my friends homes burn down when they did all they could to make their homes defendable, but their neighbors did not.

- Old Building Design – This is why many homes caught fire so quickly in our neighborhood. Many of our homes are made with wood siding full of wood pecker holes, and/or have old vents that may even be broken. Flames and embers went right into our attics and basements, and ignited our homes in a matter of seconds or minutes. Also, old dried out wood decks and wood fences captured heat, embers, and rolling debris, and caused lots of homes to quickly ignite.

- Significant or Semi-Significant Lack of Defensible Space –This is the number one cause for homes burning unnecessarily in our neighborhood, often lighting the adjoining homes on fire too. Too many people didn’t do 100’ of weed whacking. People had huge bushes or junipers in their yards below their homes. People had excessive wood, decking, sheds, stuff piles, fencing, and/or furniture up against their homes. The information about defensible space has been put in front of all neighbors over and over. ReadyForWildfire.org for example. It is up to homeowners to read it/understand it/most important - DO IT!

The BHFSC and Napa Fire Marshal’s office have spent so much time trying to “educate” homeowners that I believe there are no excuses for “not knowing”. We all know. We just don’t all choose to take thorough action based on a nonchalant attitude.

- The Weakest Link – Of the examples above, sometimes you can do everything almost perfect, but all it takes is one small fire up against your house for it to be gone. I watched a stucco house that almost weathered the firestorm ignite because a firewood pile placed 5’ away was on fire and fell over, catching the corner of the house on fire. If we want to live in a forest and be ready for forest fires, it means taking EVERY step we know, and learning from tragedies like this and making ourselves the most fire resilient. 100% on your home hardening checklist is worth it. We must plan for this to happen again.

- Firefighting Resources – This is based on what I witnessed, and what we all now know in terms of how unprecedented this fire was. We had enough resources the first night to luckily deflect this wind-driven fire. The next morning when Pleasants Valley Road was on fire, Fairfield and Vacaville and Berryessa Pines and Berryessa Estates were still being encroached upon by direct flames, central command fire chiefs left us with 5 fire engines hoping that would be ok. They moved the five trucks to Headlands Drive as they had a lot of work still to do to keep the fire out of Arroyo Grande and Headlands. By 10 AM, the fire jumped the line between Black Oak Lane and Parkview Lane and started burning into our neighborhood west of/below Rimrock.

The LNU Lightning Complex fire was so big there were simply no fire trucks sitting around to send to us. For us to get more trucks meant they had to pull them away from other areas and let them burn. They sent us about 20 more trucks as fast as they could that morning/afternoon, but flames were moving fast and many homes were hard to defend or not defendable, so firefighters struggled and worked their butts off fighting fire where they could.

At that point the sky was so smoky that planes could not get into our neighborhood. More helicopters would have been nice, but 1,000,000 acres had burned in the bay area at that point. Tens of thousands of homes were threatened. Yes, more aircraft and trucks in the state would have helped, but in any and all cases of forest fire, “enough” firefighting resources are never a guarantee. This is simply what happened. Not justification, or acceptance, or blame. It just is what it is.

- Water Supply – I bring this up because I think it is being misunderstood by many neighbors, and I feel it played the least significant role in the loss of homes. From what I saw, all fire hydrants worked until the tank/water supply was drained, which was after 6 PM. Our 500,000 gallon tank ran dry only toward the end if the firefight, after 70+ homes had burned down. Each burned home was spewing water, and at 1,000 gallons per minute per fire hose, hours of firefighting that day used up hundreds of thousands of gallons of water. I have to say… if all neighbors simply had defendable homes as required, we wouldn’t have run out.

Every rural community across America has water quantity limitations based on cost of infrastructure and desire to pay to upgrade. Our neighborhood was put in with a basic water system that is 60 years old. So maybe it’s due for some upgrades. The question is, do the ratepayers want to/can we pay for it?

Where Do We Go From Here As Residents?

If your home burned down, the frank question being asked is do you rebuild? That of course is a personal decision based on lots of things. I know that financially, many neighbors will not be rebuilding simply due to insufficient insurance and cost of building. From the forest fire safety perspective that we are now left with, I would say if you can bear the stress of fires, rebuilding with several precautions can be sensible. New building codes require homes to be very resistant to fires, 50+ years of brush accumulation in the hills around us is now gone, and hopefully all residents now understand the threat and will maintain their landscapes and homes, minimizing the severity of future fires. Homeowners insurance availability, or a lack thereof, is a big problem that might make rebuilding cost prohibitive. High priced policies or low damage coverage policies seem to be the only options. In a perfect world this is going to get better, but for now I really don’t have an answer as to what people will have in terms of options when/if they rebuild.

If you have a home that hasn’t burned, we need to adapt and learn from this serious situation and take steps to make our homes more capable of resisting a wildfire. When we skip critical steps, we acknowledge we are gambling with our homes, and the homes of our neighbors. Defensible space and home hardening… start with everything easy and/or cheap. Then do the more expensive upgrades you can manage. Go to ReadyForWildfire.org and do everything. If you are not clear and you need help with your checklist, call CAL Fire, or even give me a call and I will point out every upgrade you need to do.

Adding sprinklers is a very important point. Several homes in the neighborhood had various types of basic yard sprinklers either previously mounted or set out last minute on decks and/or roofs. These sprinklers soaked wood, grass, and everything in range, and without a doubt helped save several homes in the neighborhood during this fire.

The commercial grade system at my house was the equivalent of having several firefighters and hundreds of feet of hose and 10 trucks worth of water, all operated by levers and just me. I think a sprinkler system is a must have for every home in the forest. It is no guarantee, but water on an area that has great defensible space can save your home.

Support the Berryessa Highlands Fire Safe Council. If you live in another region, support your local Fire Safe Council or local defensible space projects. If you’re a landowner, encourage the work on your land. If you’re a homeowner, donate a bit of cash, or get your employer to donate $1,000 or more. Community wide-defensible space projects may save your home like they saved homes in our neighborhood, Berryessa Estates, and Circle Oaks.

Thoughts On Room For Improvement With Infrastructure And Resources

The following concepts have been brought up in the past, and considering 95 homes burned down in our neighborhood, it is worth discussing them briefly as possible areas to invest millions to help save our $100,000,000 in homes.

- Evacuation Advisory – The first thing I want to point out is the cheapest (free) and easiest to fix. A small but significant thing that has not gone right during this fire or the Atlas Fire was the evacuation warning process. In both fires, our neighborhood never received an evacuation advisory. We just got a mandatory evacuation as the fire was entering Steele Canyon. Both times the fire jumped their lines miles and miles away, and despite predictable movement our direction, the leaders at whatever fire HQ did not let our community know that there was a possible approaching problem a few hours out.

Considering we are the biggest community in East Napa, with 1,000 residents, I would really like to see more communication for such a large group of people. I shouldn’t have to be the one warning my neighbors every time. Many of our neighbors really don’t know “how bad is it” when a fire is 5 miles away. If the county does not communicate until the very last second with us, then residents will never know when they need to be on guard.

- Updated Realistic Approach to Resident Firefighting

As much as I want the Fire Department to be there for me and each one of my 250 neighbors’ homes, I know that cannot always be the case. In an era when millions of Californians have moved their homes to forests, I might dare to say there will often not be enough fire trucks for everyone. I most certainly don’t want to encourage people to stay home and risk dying to defend a non-defendable home. But frankly, if you create thorough defensible space, and you want a home in the forest with an amazing lake view and no crime, you might need to have a (proper/safe) plan to stay and defend your own home if you are capable and willing.

In an unmanaged forest, fire can be crazy dangerous and unpredictable. But our neighborhood has had so much defensible space work done in and around it that the last 3 fires have shown that it can be defended when some residents stay behind. Twenty years ago, most residents in the Highlands had a plan, tools, and training to defend their own homes. This might sound crazy, but I wish we could do the same thing today. I probably cannot really suggest that, but as you know, my personal plan is to do just that.

- More Effective Volunteer Fire Department

In a perfect world we would have 10 or 20 neighbors as members of the Napa County Volunteer Fire Department. A few of them would be able to drive the truck in our fire station, and at least one person would be here that knows how to fight a fire with our neighborhood layout, fire breaks, terrain, and vegetation. The problem is the only way to be a volunteer firefighter is to be medically, rescue, auto accident, house fire and wildfire trained. It takes such a commitment that most all are not able to do it, and those that can pull it off, are not able to donate the additional weeks of time to be able to drive the truck.

So, currently we have a fire truck with no driver, and no one in the neighborhood that can respond directly to a fire. If this needs to be changed at the state or county level, it clearly needs to change. If there is no change and we can’t get more official volunteers, then resident firefighting or paid firefighters are needed.

- Staffed Fire Station – A staffed fire station is requested and demanded by many neighbors at this point. Staffed fire stations are always wanted everywhere, but costs often prohibit them. But maybe it’s time. I do want to point out that while our local volunteer and staffed Capell Valley Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched elsewhere when the flames hit our neighborhood last month, during the 2018 Steele Fire, they showed up in force and saved the homes on Woodhaven Ct. They were amazing. They fanned out with 4 trucks and helped save a dozen homes. When they are available, local volunteer and paid FD is a fantastic defense, and we love and appreciate them for always doing everything they can!

- More Fire Fighting Equipment – More helicopters, airplanes, and fire trucks would clearly be helpful. We don’t need 10 times the aircraft, but maybe let’s get real serious and invest in our fleet and personnel to run it all. Again, it comes down to how much money we want the government to spend. These investments can come from the county or state level, and might be able to be justified when you consider the cost of recent wildfires, and value of all the remaining and future homes.

- Water System Upgrade – Clearly we could always use more water for firefighting. The most important thing to clarify though is who is going to pay for it. Every water system in California is strictly ratepayer funded. So if we want an upgraded tank or hydrants or alternate water supply we have to pay for it. Demanding the county taxpayers to pay for an upgraded system for our neighborhood is not too realistic because then every other neighborhood in the county would demand the same thing.

Most fire grants out there specifically do not cover infrastructure improvements, so we can’t just hope we can get someone to pay for it for us. We technically bought into a neighborhood with water system limitations, like everyone else. That is no one’s problem but us. That said, if we want to pay for it, I think another half million gallon water tank could probably be bought and installed for less than 5 or 10 million dollars. Or an independent pump and pipeline to a dedicated water supply by our fire station could maybe be done in the same range. Again… it all depends on how much we want to be ok with it as is, vs. how much we need it to be upgraded. The discussion should be had, the concepts should be priced out, and maybe it just needs to be voted on as a water bond.

- Forest Management – Last but not least. I bring this up last because this is not a local problem needing resolved thanks to the Berryessa Highlands Fire Safe Council. But it is a regional and state level change of mentality that needs to be encouraged strongly from the local level up. I’m not going to go into what it is as many people get the point of thinning and managing forests lands, but the bottom line is the only way to help manage small and large scale forest fires of the future is to dedicate money and resources to controlled burns and fire breaks. 350,000 acres just burned around us, giving us a pretty clean slate. Now it is up to fire planners & leaders to maintain healthy forests from here on out.

I hope this breakdown helps all neighbors understand the gist of what happened. The simple story is there was a fire and homes burned. But in order to prevent this from happening again in our neighborhood, and to help others in other neighborhoods, we have to dive a bit deeper. And despite how long this document is, it is really just a summary. Now it’s up to all of us to follow up and do things about it. Do our defensible space. Get additional resources and plans in place to be prepared for the inevitable. No complaining or excuses. County of Napa… State of California… you too! Time to do your part as the government and catch up. It’s 2020. We know we live in a forest, in an era of mega-fires. Time to act like it. Because watching so many of my best friends homes burn down is not anything I ever want to experience again.


Highlands sign fire

Napa County Local Assistance Center (LAC)



defensible space zones


Wildfire history


Amber new ad lots 100720


What is a Public Insurance Adjuster and Why Might You Need One?

So many people have lost everything in this latest series of fires that the critical subject of fire insurance becomes paramount. As with the last fires here in Napa County, the big issue will be the response of insurance companies to the challenges of helping their clients as quickly as possible. And as last time, people are finding out that some insurance companies are not particularly responsive. One of the largest segments of the American economy is, ironically, FIRE - Finance, Insurance, Real Estate. Since the present economic system is a cult of predatory capitalism, FIRE is in the business of making money - not helping people.

Once an insured suffers a loss such as the wildfire destruction occurring in Napa County, unfortunately, they move from the revenue side of the insurance company's ledger to the expense side. The insurance company's incentive to reduce expenses becomes manifest in the way the insurer adjusts claims downwards. Public Adjusters ensure that insurance companies live up to the promise they sold to the insured since many times the insurance company's tactics are to reduce claim payouts that leave people short-changed. 

The insurance company has their own adjuster who represents the carrier's financial interests. Public Adjusters level the playing field so the conflict of interest that an insurance adjuster has by representing both the insurer and insured is removed. While an insurance adjuster may be very nice and polite, they have a job to do - which is to protect the insurer's financial interests. Public Adjusters remove that conflict and become the policyholder's face and voice to prepare, present and negotiate the claim with the goal of legitimately maximizing the indemnities owed by the insurer. Unlike an insurance adjuster who cannot serve two masters, Public Adjusters serve only the policyholder. 

The decision whether or not to hire a Public Adjuster is an individual one - it depends on your situation. Getting a full and fair settlement on a large loss is time-consuming and requires effort. When you pay your premium, it entitles you to benefits in the event of a covered loss, AND good service when you file a claim. So in theory you shouldn't need to pay a public adjuster.  But with losses where large dollars are at stake, it can be a fight to collect what you're owed.  

There are for-profit and not-for profit companies. An example of a for-profit company is SunPoint Public Adjusters (https://sunpoint.us/about/). They are a for-profit business and you can hire one of their employees to tally up the full extent of your losses, read and understand what your insurance policy entitles you to receive, be your advocate and reach a fair claim settlement on your behalf by standing in your shoes in meetings and negotiations with the insurance company and collect every dollar available in the policy. 

For-profit Independent Public Adjusters are paid on a Fee-Schedule. This is a percentage of the total claim amount. Since their pay is tied to a percentage, this incentivizes them to look for all the damage covered under the insured's policy. The Public Adjuster is not paid until the clients are paid. There are no upfront fees for their services. Their fee comes out of what they recover on your behalf, but if they've done their job right, you'll come out ahead because they'll have collected more than you would have on your own. 

An example of a not-for-profit (non-profit) organization is United Policy Holders (https://www.uphelp.org/) which is a free resource for being the policyholder's best advocate, collecting what the insurer owes and getting professional help if needed. They are not available to be hired for a fee. The information and support resources they offer online, in print and through their webinar series is free of charge. United Policyholders is the company for which Napa County provides information at their Wildfire Support Local Assistance Centers (LAC) for wildfire victims.

United Policy Holders basic guidance is given in more detail at:  https://www.uphelp.org/pubs/questions-ask-hiring-public-adjuster


The Lake Berryessa News Fire Edition, September 2020 is available for download at:

LBNews Pg 8&1 Sep20


Opportunity, Irony, Tragedy, RecoveryThe Lake Berryessa Business Cycle?


On August 4, 2020 the North Bay Business Journal published a story titled, “Napa County’s hidden destination: Will Lake Berryessa’s future shine again?” by Gary Quackenbush. It was a very positive review of the potential revitalization of the Lake Berryessa recreational community under the new Managing Partner Agreement between Napa County and the Bureau of Reclamation scheduled to take effect on November 1, 2020. The story was filled with optimistic interviews with various business owners at the lake. Marcia Ritz, proprietor of the Spanish Flat General Store, said that people tired of sheltering in place have been coming to the lake in great numbers since March. She said it has been her best year so far in over a decade.

Many of us remember the lake’s better times. Motels, cabins, several restaurants, marinas with boat slips and other amenities dotted the 28-mile long, three-mile wide lake in Napa County. We all hope the new county–bureau partnership will result in positive change and growth.

“Now that the agreement is final, we are moving forward with the county process,” said Molly Rattigan, deputy Napa executive officer who has been managing Napa County–bureau agreement negotiations for several years. “We plan to send out bidding packages by September.

“It has been too long since we experienced a thriving Lake Berryessa,” said Supervisor Diane Dillon, chair of the Napa County Board of Supervisors. ”We want to work with the community to restore economic vitality to the region surrounding one of Napa County’s most important recreational areas. We thank the Bureau of Reclamation for working with us and for providing the county the opportunity to bring back vibrant concessions at Lake Berryessa.”


Exactly two weeks later, on August 18, an unprecedented lightning storm caused fires to break out all over the tinder dry region. Rainfall in the 2019-2020 season was the lowest it had been in more than 22 years. Within one day the fire raged up and over the hills around Lake Berryessa and destroyed large parts of the community. Positivity was no match for reality.

Heartbreaking stories filled the news media. Most of the Spanish Flat neighborhood burned to the dirt. Although Marcia Ritz’s Spanish Flat Country Store survived, the Spanish Flat Mobile Villa next door was destroyed - including Marcia’s home. “I’m an artist, I lost all of my artwork, I lost all of my friend’s original art that I had, and everything I owned,” Ritz said. Now, Ritz thinks she’ll have to close her business. “There is no customer base. There are maybe two houses remaining on the hill,” she said, waving her hand to gesture down Berryessa Knoxville Road.


The Spanish Flat residential community had become an inferno of burning rubble. The fire soon raced around the lower part of the lake sped up Steele Canyon Road and burned down about 100 of the 300 homes in the Berryessa Highlands. Everyone interviewed for the original Business Journal upbeat article was now being interviewed in news stories about the tragedy that had struck them so quickly. Breathtakingly sad stories of loss filled the news media.

The biggest tragedy this time compared to the last two times the lake was threatened by wildfire, was the lack of fire suppression support from the air. The huge numbers of fires started at the same time by thousands of lightning strikes simply overwhelmed the available capacity to fight them. Although fire fighters with trucks and bulldozers on the ground did what they could, the fires were often simply allowed to burn.

Recovery - Short Term

A week after they began the wildfires were extinguished or contained. The region had no electricity due to hundreds of wooden power poles being burned and wires melted. Roads in and out of the region were closed for a week after that to allow Napa County, PG&E, AT&T, and others to clear the roads of downed trees and debris. PG&E crews swarmed the area installing hundreds of new power poles in less than a week. Power was finally restored to the Berryessa Highland residential area on September 2, about two weeks after it was lost in the original lightning storm, but other areas may yet take weeks to be restored. The official PG&E estimate is that all power should be restored to the region by September 20.

My house, the Lake Berryessa News HQ, survived the fire due to my son’s well-engineered system of a 5,000 gallon water tank and generator-driven industrial sprinklers all around the periphery of our house. We now have generator power (8 gallons of gas per day), well-water, internet, wifi, TV, and air conditioning. We are aware of how fortunate we are.

As of September 5th, dozens of PG&E trucks carrying pole digging equipment and power poles are moving back and forth on my rural road. They are supported by many helicopters flying over my house ferrying equipment to the repair sites in the hills.



Napa County stepped up to provide immediate support with Local Assistance Centers in the Berryessa Highlands and at the County's Health & Human Services campus. The state was declared a federal disaster area and FEMA is on site to provide emergency resources and long-term financial aid. Thirty year fixed loans at 1.5% are available to qualified fire victims.

As with the last fires here in Napa County, the big issue will be the response of insurance companies to the challenges of helping their clients as quickly as possible. And as last time, people are finding out that many insurance companies are not particularly responsive. As most North Bay Business Journal readers are aware, one of the largest segments of the American economy is, ironically again, FIRE - Finance, Insurance, Real Estate. Since the present economic system is a cult of predatory capitalism, FIRE is in the business of making money - not helping people.

Some of my neighbors are receiving excellent customer service from reputable insurance companies - but some are not. Unfortunately, some companies first give folks a paperwork runaround and then dispute a claim looking for any technicality to deny paying their rightful amount. This is an unconscionable business practice.

Recovery - Long Term

In the aftermath of this disaster there a several business questions to be addressed. For example, will private insurance companies be able to continue to offer fire insurance coverage. Even after the fires two years ago most companies either cancelled homeowner’s insurance coverage or more than doubled their homeowner policy premiums in the Lake Berryessa region. In response Napa county built two local fire stations in the Berryessa Highlands and Berryessa Estates. Companies then lowered their premiums. But with the extent of the present California disaster, will they cancel all fire coverage as happened many years ago with earthquake insurance. The state had to step in with the California Earthquake Authority. Will a similar agency be created for fire coverage?

A more important question to many of us who have worked long and hard on the revitalization of Lake Berryessa is whether the fire will have any impact on Napa County’s willingness to continue with the signed Managing Partner Agreement and get the bids out soon. For rational business people who understand the future recreational value of the lake as described in detail in the Ragatz report:  Lake Berryessa: An Untapped Resort Development Opportunity (www.lakeberryessanews.com/special-publications/rfii-process--ragatz-report/final-lake-berryessa-ragatz.pdf) the results of the fire should not make an impact on their decision. The resorts will be built on the lakeshore and made as fire safe as modern technology and the latest safety codes can make them - virtually bulletproof to wildfires.

This view was validated recently by the Napa County supervisors. The supervisors interviewed for the original North Bay Business Journal article were positive in their outlook for the future of Lake Berryessa. They apparently still are.

On Aug. 18, (ironically, the day the fires began) the Board of Supervisors agreed to create a Lake Berryessa concessions manager position to oversee the resort sites. The next steps were to be filling that position and inviting proposals from potential private sector concessionaires to both redevelop and operate the resorts. How quickly the county seeks bids is up to the Board of Supervisors.

County Board of Supervisors Chair Diane Dillon in a recent interview said that she doesn’t think the Hennessey Fire will keep the county from reaching this goal.

“I think there are still more positives than otherwise in terms of why people would come to Lake Berryessa,” she said. “That landscape does look different,” Dillon said. “But when you look at other places where fire has occurred, in 2017, 2018 or even 2019, it springs back pretty readily.”

Dillon said that optimally, renovation work at the resorts could still begin next spring. There wouldn’t have been any construction this year even without the fire, she said.

Opportunity, Irony, Tragedy, Recovery: The Lake Berryessa business cycle appears to have returned to the opportunity phase - hopefully a long-lived one.


Opportunity: a situation or condition favorable for attainment of a goal.

Irony: the expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.

Situational irony involves a striking reversal of what is expected or intended.

Tragedy: an event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress, such as a serious accident, crime, or natural catastrophe.

Recovery: regaining of or possibility of regaining something lost or taken away.


 The View From Space!

Berryessa from space before after

LNU Fire map names


Deja Vu All Over Again Three Years Later

Some cliches are just too true. In 2017 Evan Kilkus, Associate Editor of the Lake Berryessa News,  made the national news for his real time reporting on the fire approaching Lake Berryessa and the Berryessa Highlands.

As the Los Angeles Times wrote, "He wouldn't evacuate, then used Facebook Live to broadcast firestorm in his hometown. While many heeded the evacuation order as the Atlas Peak fire swept through, Kilkus, 34, refused to leave. Instead, he turned into a one-man news team for his neighbors."

Using Facebook Live, he streamed real-time video of the flames from atop a ridgeline accessible from his father’s property. For seven days, he narrated and posted videos, providing context and updates to residents on edge about the fate of their homes. While newspapers and TV stations documented the unfolding disaster across Napa and Sonoma counties, the 34-year-old resident of Berryessa Highlands became a one-man breaking-news operation.

Evan Kilkus and his father, Peter Kilkus, run the Lake Berryessa News, which describes itself as the only news source covering the tiny communities along the lake. “Without The Lake Berryessa News there would be no Lake Berryessa news!”.

For Evan, it’s a simple but vital mission: “At the Lake Berryessa News, this is what we do. We get all the important information and we provide it,” he said.

Fast forward three years later, the stories in the 2017 news media could simply be copied and pasted into stories for 2020. The stories were the same, only the outcomes changed.

Again Evan wouldn't evacuate. After saving the Lake Berryessa News headquarters (the Kilkus home) above the Berryessa Highlands with his amazingly-engineered wildfire fire sprinkler system, he reported live several times each day using Facebook Live to broadcast the firestorm to worried Lake Berryessa residents. He again turned into a one-man news team for his neighbors.

-Evan broadcasts

Evan turned his smartphone into a source of live pictures, videos and updates for residents to keep in touch with the lakeside communities they had been forced to leave behind. For two weeks this time, the Lake Berryessa News’ Facebook page was again almost the only source of images and reports from around Lake Berryessa, starting with dramatic nighttime footage of flames along a ridgeline and later documenting the closing-off - and eventual reopening - of roads and neighborhoods.

Tragically, unlike the miraculous result from 2017 when the lake communities and the Berryessa Highlands were saved due to the massive air support of supertankers and a slew of water-dropping helicopters, 2020 brought unmitigated disaster.

But rather than reporting the good news of all the  houses saved as last time, Evan had to broadcast the bad news of massive destruction. Watching some of your best friends' houses being burned to the ground would take an emotional toll on anyone, even someone nicknamed "Mr. Positivity".

Kilkus worked with the firefighters every day and was able to save the house of a Rimrock friend - one "bright" spot in the gloom. Now that the recovery phase of this disaster is moving forward, the Lake Berryessa News will continue to bring you the latest information.


Exterior Wildfire Sprinklers 

by Evan Kilkus

I installed 16 sprayers around the house plus 4 around the perimeter.  The system includes two 5,000 gallon water tanks, two 4" draft hydrants, three pressurized 1.5" hydrants, a pump and lots of valves.  

It works amazingly well, and the firefighters I have shown it to wish every home had something similar.  Our home has new concrete siding, ember resistant vents, and fantastic defensible space, so the next logical thing was add water!  


Frontline Fire Protection, LLC is a commercial company that does similar fire protection installations.


Systems start at about $15,000 with more thorough coverage to $35,000.


Lake Berryessa after the fire is still a recreational gem for the future.

Some very good news for the Lake Berryessa community and the many thousands of people (millions of previous users actually) who love the lake! Hennessey fire won't end Lake Berryessa resort revitalization push.



Here is a good story with amazing drone video shots of the devastation at Lake Berryessa.


Eastridge and Headlands from air
LAKE BERRYESSA, CA - AUGUST 31: Burned homes in the Berryessa Highlands neighborhood are seen from this drone view in Lake Berryessa, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020. The LNU Lightning Complex Fire is currently the third largest in California history. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)
SpanFlat Mobile from air
LAKE BERRYESSA, CA - AUGUST 31: Burned homes in the Spanish Flat Mobile Villa trailer park are seen from this drone view in Lake Berryessa, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020. The LNU Lightning Complex Fire is currently the third largest in California history. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)

Wilson house from above


Power was restored to the Berryessa Highlands on September 3 !

Darwin's Bull survived

Will Darwin’s bison become the symbol of Lake Berryessa’s recovery!


Lake Berryessa residents return to homes devastated by wildfire

 Napa Register, Howard Yune, Aug 31, 2020 

An army of firefighters from across California and the nation has slowly beaten back the Hennessey Fire, the main component of one of the state's largest woodland fires on record. By Monday morning, Cal Fire announced the LNU Lightning Complex – which also includes the Walbridge Fire in Sonoma County – had been 63% contained as fire crews took advantage of milder temperatures and winds late last week.

Left in the fire's wake, however, have been more than 1,200 destroyed structures and five deaths, including three people who were overtaken by the flames at their home on Highway 128 near Lake Berryessa on Aug. 19, the third day of the blaze.

Headlands 2-story chimney



‘2020 Can Go to Hell’: 

The Story Behind the Viral Fire Photo That Said It All

 By Jack Healy, New York Times, August 26, 2020


LAKE BERRYESSA, Calif. — In the sprawling destruction of California’s wildfires, one photo became an instant icon for 2020’s miseries: On a hillside roaring with flames stood a sign that asked visitors to a senior center to wear masks, wash their hands and be safe. “Come Join Us,” it beckoned creepily.

The virus. Lost jobs. A world aflame. 


Senior Center sign fire combo

For those who know the Lake Berryessa area, you'll notice that the “ instant icon” photo in the article was of the sign across from Turtle Rock, not the Senior Center itself. Amazingly the sign and, thankfully, Turtle Rock survived. Despite the photo the Lake Berryessa Senior Center and Community Hall next to the Monticello Cemetery in Spanish Flat  on the Spanish Flat Loop Road survived!


Previous Berryessa Fire Update Videos Available Here...

Lake Berryessa Fire Updates August 2020


Lake Berryessa Fire Photo Album (9/1/20)

Fire from Steele Canyon launch ramp 082820



Ironically, things were looking better for Lake Berryessa only a few weeks ago!

Lake Berryessa News: August 4, 2020 Special Edition



A great article in the North Bay Business Journal (www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/) has just been published. It deserves a special edition of the Lake Berryessa News email newsletter. 

It also deserves wide-spread distribution to all those who care about revitalization of this amazing resource. Well-written with insightful inteviews with local business owners and beautiful photos of the lake.

Napa County’s hidden destination: 

Will Lake Berryessa’s future shine again?



August 4, 2020


Here's the introductory section. Read the whole article at the link above or here...


Dam from front high

Stefano Gusberti, chef and owner of Cucina Italiana at Lake Berryessa since 2004, remembers the lake's better times. Motels, cabins, several restaurants, marinas with boat slips and other amenities dotted the 28-mile long, three-mile wide lake in Napa County.

"We once saw 1.8 to 2 million visitors a year, today only about 400,000. I had eight employees years ago, now it's just me making pepperoni pizza and lumpia (Italian spring rolls). Demand is high. Some of our pizza orders range from 3 or 4 up to as many as 15 pies for carryout or outdoor patio dining."

Even though the summers remain busy - busier still as people facing pandemic times seek its 80-degree, crystal clear water and numerous islands to explore - some say there is potential for this gem of a lake to return its glory days.

In June, Napa County and the lake's owner, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), signed a new 55-year Managing Partner Agreement (MPA) expected to lead to long-term business contracts for new concessions on federally-owned land within 1,000 feet from the lake. Napa County will issue bid packages to potential investors this fall.

The MPA's first phase paves the way for the county to choose developers for three lakeside resort sites - Monticello Shores (closed) Spanish Flat (open under interim contract) and the Steele Canyon recreation area (open for day use with tent/RV campsites and boat ramp).

Under phase 2, by or before Nov. 1, 2030, the county will determine whether to take over recreation management responsibility for two other sites - Pleasure Cove and Markley Cove currently under lease agreements. In Phase 3, the county may elect to assume recreation management responsibility for Berryessa Point and Putah Canyon.

"This is a huge achievement for all of us. We're looking forward to building the partnership with Napa County and working together to deliver a thriving recreation program at Lake Berryessa for the public," said California-Great Basin Regional Director Ernest Conant in a USBR press release.

"Now that the agreement is final, we are moving forward with the county process," said Molly Rattigan, deputy Napa executive officer who has been managing Napa County/USBR MPA negotiations for several years. "We plan to send out bidding packages by September. We maintain a list of interested parties and will provide information and updates about these emerging business opportunities to all."

Rattigan said Napa County is also preparing to recruit a concessions manager for these projects.

"It has been too long since we experienced a thriving Lake Berryessa," said Supervisor Diane Dillion, chair of the Napa County Board of Supervisors. "We want to work with the community to restore economic vitality to the region surrounding one of Napa County's most important recreational areas. We thank the Bureau of Reclamation for working with us and for providing the county the opportunity to bring back vibrant concessions at Lake Berryessa."

Supervisor Dillion represents District 3 that includes the northern section of the lake and Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza represents District 4 that covers the southern portion of Berryessa.

Lake Berryessa Boat and Jet Ski Rentals and Repair owner Marty Rodden hopes to see Spanish Flat, Monticello Shores and Steele Canyon redeveloped.


Lake Berryessa Boat & Jet Ski Rentals and Repair Owner Marty Rodden (Photo by Gary Quackenbush)

"A number of good companies plan to bid on one or more of these properties. I go to all of the prospective investor walk-throughs of designated resort sites. In the past, when developers found what it takes to rebuild facilities in California previously torn down, some had second thoughts."

He observed that 30-year leases, even with extensions, have been a limiting factor by not giving developers adequate time to be compensated for money put in. With the MPA, these leases can be extended to half a century.

"We are booked up solid through August for our wakeboard, ski and pontoon boat rentals as well as for jet skis, fishing boats, kayaks and paddle board reservations," Rodden said.

Read the full article at...


Lake Full



Policy and Politics Betray the People: 

The Lake Berryessa Saga: 1958 - 2020

Click on the title above for a draft version of the book for review and comment.

Lake Berryessa Political History Timeline (Web Page)

Timeline (PDF)

Lake Berryessa Project Primary Document Index

Introduction: The Four Tragedies of the Berryessa Valley

Without THE LAKE BERRYESSA NEWS there would be no Lake Berryessa News…and finally there would be no definitive history of what happened at Lake Berryessa. Having participated directly for more than twenty years as an advocate for the lake in the fiasco that was the Bureau of Reclamation’s Visitor Services Plan, its farcical but tragic outcome, and the process of rebuilding, I have very strong views of the causes and results - supported by facts and data which were mostly obfuscated by the proponents of the destruction of the lake’s residential and business community.

A History of Heartbreak

As I stood with Brian Hackney of KPIX’s Eye on the Bay looking out at the fantastic view of Lake Berryessa from the site of the demolished Steele Park Resort’s Boathouse Restaurant (https://youtu.be/nP9K8Ai0Lkc), I was struck by the many levels of history we were witness to. And much of that history, unfortunately, was filled with heartbreak.

The First Tragedy: The Destruction of Native American Culture

Formerly known as Talahalusi (Beautiful Land), the Napa Valley is one of California's longest inhabited areas. Archaeological surveys indicate 10,000 years of uninterrupted habitation. "It was a paradise - a cultivated paradise where one only had to reach out their hand to eat. A place rich in beauty, water and food," stated the oral history of Native American Elder Jim Big Bear King.

Native Americans lived peacefully in pole houses, using clamshell beads and magnesite cylinders for money and jewelry. They processed obsidian into shafts, spears and arrowheads, which were used for hunting and export. Acorns, perennial grasses, wild berries, freshwater shellfish, salmon, fowl and game were their diet. These hunter-gatherers lived in a rich environment with a capacity for a dense, socially complex population of 35,000-40,000 people. They established large permanent villages with nearby seasonal resource and task-specific camps.

In 1976 an archaeological survey of lands slated for development for recreational purposes (Oak Shores) resulted in the discovery of a number of prehistoric artifacts along the shoreline of Lake Berryessa. Although the study area (Oakshores Park) is contiguous to Lake Berryessa and appears (at the present time) to be a favorable place for human occupance, prior to the construction of Monticello Dam it was a considerable distance from the principal stream draining the area (Putah Creek).

Spain claimed the land that included California in about 1530.  It stayed in Spanish hands until Mexican independence in 1821 when it became part of Mexico—Alta California as it was called by the Mexicans to distinguish it from Baja California.

After the Spanish and Mexican invasion in 1823, the tribes were nearly decimated by forced marches and smallpox. When forced to relocate to various missions for religious indoctrination, many fled to friendlier territory.

The Second Tragedy: The Destruction of Spanish Culture

Alta California stayed in Mexican hands until an infamous incident in 1846.  John C. Fremont led a group of American adventurers and earlier American immigrants in an uprising to try and free Alta California from Mexican hands.  On 14 June 1846 Fremont and company declared California to be an independent state:  the Bear Flag Republic. What so stains the Bear Flag Republic is the killing by some of Fremont’s men, lead by the famous Kit Carson, of three innocent Mexicans—Jose de los Reyes Berryessa and two of his nephews.

This “republic” only lasted until 7 July 1846.  The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American war and ceded northern Mexico to the U.S.  California, then, became a territory of the U.S.  In 1850 California was admitted to the Union as a state and stayed in the Union during the Civil War.

What, though, of the people of Alta California?  Who were they, where did they come from, and how did they change over time?  Particularly what of the people of Berryessa Valley?

The first people known to reside in the valley were American Indians from the Southern Wintun tribe.  Up until about 1800 members of the Southern Wintun tribe lived in a village in Berryessa Valley named Topai.  Their main diet was acorns which normally grew abundantly.  Unfortunately, no members of the Southern Wintun tribe survive. 

The next known inhabitants of the valley were two Mexican brothers, the Berryessas (Berryessa is a corruption of their actual name—Berelleza).  The Berryessa brothers, Sisto and Jose, received the valley as part of a land grant to them in 1843 from the newly independent Mexican government.  When California became a state in 1850 the Berryessas petitioned to have their land grant recognized by the United States government.

However, by the time Lincoln finalized the Berryessa brothers’ right to the land almost none of the land was still in Berryessa hands.  The Berryessas had sold the vast majority of the land in order to cover their plentiful debts, particularly gambling debts.  It seems that Sisto and Jose were overly fond of Three Card Monte and horse racing.  In 1879, the last Berryessa homesteader, Nicholosa Higuera, wife of Sisto Berryessa, died.  Her husband died the year before in 1878.  Both were buried in the valley.  Sisto’s body, unlike that of many of the other homesteaders, was not recovered when the cemetery in Monticello was relocated to Spanish Flat.  Sisto lies beneath the waters of Lake Berryessa even today.

The Third Tragedy: The Destruction of Rural Culture

The town of Monticello was born the next year, 1867, when B.F. Davis built a blacksmith shop.  It became the center of a prosperous agricultural community and was located somewhat in the middle of the valley, along Putah Creek.  The valley itself was flat and fertile and was considered to have some of the best soil in the country.

Monticello was always a fairly small town, usually two to three hundred residents.  The town at different times had a hotel, a school, two gas pumps, a general store, a community hall, and a bar (a roadside spot called “The Hub”).  McKenzie and Sons store (originally McKenzie and Cook) was a center point for much of the activity in the town.  Albert McKenzie, who ran the store for many years, was the grocery clerk, postmaster, community telephone switchboard operator, notary public, crop insurance man as well as the person to go to for free farming and income tax advice.  He was a man who wore many hats.  Monticello became a popular venue for rodeos, baseball games, and “cow roasts” drawing people from miles around. 

The town enjoyed the distinction of being the first community in the state to have a telephone system installed (around 1905).  In 1896 the famous Monticello Bridge over Putah Creek, was built.  It was considered the grandest stone masonry bridge ever built in California, consisting of three 70 foot spans.  Some claim it was the largest stone bridge in the Western United States.  The Bridge is the only thing that remains of Monticello beneath the waters of Lake Berryessa—everything else was either burnt to the ground or carted off. 

Monticello store demolished
Burning house again1
Burning house again

The Solano County Irrigation District was formed in 1948 to obtain irrigation water from a proposed multiple-purpose Solano Project and included the damming of Berryessa Valley at Devil’s Gate.  Shortly thereafter Bureau of Reclamation included the Solano Project as part of its plan to develop water resources in the Central Valley Basin of California.

In 1953 construction began on Monticello Dam.  The rest of the Solano Project includes a diversion dam on lower Putah Creek (creating Lake Solano) and an open waterway stretching 33 miles named the Putah South Canal.

By 1956 all the trees, homes, barns, and other structures were dismantled, burned, or removed from the valley in preparation for its inundation.  Because the land was condemned, compensation for people’s property was minimal. 

The Dam was completed in 1957 and the former valley, now a reservoir, filled within two years leaving no clues that Monticello and Berryessa Valley were once populated.

The Fourth Tragedy: Destruction of  Lake Berryessa Family Recreation

The Bureau of Reclamation and their supporters destroyed family recreation at Lake Berryessa for a generation of families, children, and friends. Many people ask me about the history of the process that led to the present situation at Lake Berryessa. When I explain what happened most become incredulous and can't believe the government could have done something so stupid. "How could they have gotten away with that?" they exclaim.

Steele Park Restaurant from lake

The Fifth Tragedy: Opportunity, Irony, Tragedy, Recovery - A Lake Berryessa Cycle?

On August 18, 2020 the LNU Lightning Complex fire, the largest in California history burned much of Lake Berryessa and the surrounding region. The Spanish Flat residential community had become an inferno of burning rubble. The fire soon raced around the lower part of the lake sped up Steele Canyon Road and burned down about 100 of the 300 homes in the Berryessa Highlands.

A week after they began the wildfires were extinguished or contained. The region had no electricity due to hundreds of wooden power poles being burned and wires melted. Roads in and out of the region were closed for a week after that to allow Napa County, PG&E, AT&T, and others to clear the roads of downed trees and debris. PG&E crews swarmed the area installing hundreds of new power poles in less than a week. Power was finally restored to the Berryessa Highland residential area on September 2, about two weeks after it was lost in the original lightning storm, but other areas took several more weeks to be restored.


The goal of my new  book is to provide the history and the context within which such an incredibly destructive course of action took place. The book is dedicated to documenting this final tragedy - and, hopefully, the promised revitalization.


Here's an interview I did in 2010, three years after the interview below with Pat Monaghan and just after Pensus had been given the contract for 5 resorts. As we all know Pensus was subsequently kicked out in 2012.  



Special Reports

Lake Berryessa News (2010 - 2018): A VERY SLOW MOTION Disaster! 

Click here for PDF version 


 (Final Lake Berryessa Ragatz Report)


Ragatz Report Summary and Recommendations


Napa County Request for Information & Interest

 for Lake Berryessa Concessions

Managing Partner Agreement (MPA) between Napa County and the Bureau of Reclamation

Lake Berryessa Interview with Peter Kilkus 

on KVON Radio with Larry Kramer

Evan Faces the Fire at Our House



New Book on Amazon

-Kindle cover

Amazon Kindle - $2.99

I've just released my new book: Conspiracy Theory or Automatic Pilot: The Economic Roots of Environmental Destruction. Available on Amazon in Kindle (above) or Paperback (below).

Classical economics is a mythology. Predatory capitalism is a fundamentalist religion based on this mythology. Environmental destruction and income inequality are results of the practice of this mythical religion. But is the present economic and environmental situation a conscious conspiracy or an unintended consequence of simplistic beliefs supported by basic human greed?

Serfs Up for book

This book provides the basics of classical economic theory and the description of the intended or unintended consequences of predatory capitalism based on this theory. It contrasts these to sustainability principles underpinning modern environmental economic theory and the various movement towards corporate responsibility.

Fishing Financial System

The book is not meant to be an academic or scientific exercise for economists or policy makers. The concepts discussed are easily accessible to thoughtful readers. My objective was to explain to myself the structure of economic influence that is at the heart of environmental degradation (including the welfare of individual human beings). Understanding is the foundation of action.



Detailed report on how Lake Berryessa and Monticello Dam function at:



Special Release: New combined report for those who want to know almost everything about how Lake Berryessa works!

As Lake Berryessa Flows:

A Combination of Science, Engineering, and Natural Beauty

by Peter Kilkus

The Science and Engineering Elements of a Major Natural Resource

Download Full Report PDF Here...


Welcome to the best map of Lake Berryessa you’ll ever find!

Click on the map to see a larger version.

Click here to download a pdf copy.

1 Lake Map Base 082317


Lake Berryessa Fills and Glory Hole Spills: The Video History

This amazing series of Lake Berryessa News Drone videos by Evan Kilkus documents the 45 foot rise of Lake Berryessa in 2017.



Full lake level history 2015
Lake Levels 2006 to 031217 edited-1
Lake Levels 1990 2017



Berryessa Valley and the Town of Monticello Historical Photos and Videos from before Lake Berryessa covered it.

Berryessa Valley photo

Thanks to Carol Fitzpatrick for creating the Berryessa Valley Exhibit at the Spanish Flat Village Center described in the first video.




Some Interesting Past Stories

April Fools 2020 Edition Stories

Grass-Fed People to Replace Grass-Fed Beef

Triploid Trout Getting Bigger and Smarter in Lake Berryessa

Becoming REALLY Green to Help Our Planet

Chlorophyll skin to help solve climate crisis

University of Lake Berryessa Promotes Solutions to Climate Change, 

Global Food Security, and Animal Cruelty Prevention

The meat grape, steak potato, chicken nugget bush,and braunschweiger avocado


January 16, 2020 - KVON Radio Interview

Larry Kamer talks w/ author Peter Kilkus, about the many aspects of the Lake Berryessa Saga

Download the interview here...

The Stock Market IS NOT the Economy, Stupid!

Bird Goes Over the Glory Hole Waterfall Without A Barrel

Glory Hole: Awesome, Frightening, But Dangerous?

February 2019: 2nd Anniversary of Glory Hole Spilling

My First Fishing Trip on Lake Berryessa

Berryesa Oil Rush 1900 & 1920

Analysis of the Creation of the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument - the Dumbest National Monument in the United States

Rattlesnakes: Friend or Enemy – or just a primal fear?


Special Publications (PDF)


As Lake Berryessa Flows:

The Science and Engineering Elements of a Major Natural Resource (Combined Reports)

Combined Report Title Page and Index


As Lake Berryessa Flows: 

A Combination of Science, Engineering, and Natural Beauty 

(Single Report)


As Lake Berryessa Turns!

Temperature and Fishing in a Warm, Monomictic Lake 

(Single Report)  


Seeing Underwater at Lake Berryessa 

(Single Report)


The History of the Creation of the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument: The Ultimate Political Perversion of the Antiquities Act

By Peter Kilkus (6/20/17)

The Twisted Ten-Year Political Path From a Modest Nature Area Partnership to a Local Blue Ridge Berryessa National Conservation Area to a Large Disjointed Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area to an Incoherent Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument.

Is it the “Dumbest National Monument in the United States”? An objective review of the process by which it was created and the final formal designation suggests the answer is YES. I personally support the creation of legitimate national monuments, but this is not that. Being part of the ten year political process that led to its creation convinced me that in many situations the Antiquities Act is being abused. The Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument is a perfect case study of this abuse. 

Read the full report here.


Chef Neiman Marxist French

The Amazing Foods of Chef Neiman Marxist


Glory Hole Overflows: February, 2017 (ACDC version)

Bird Down Glory Hole (video)

ACDC Intros mix



Hot Tramp 1000 Video 

World’s Largest Rock and Roll Band

Evan Faces the Fire at Our House1

Evan Fights Fire2

pKilkus@gmail.com                       © Peter Kilkus 2020