Wildfire scorches lemons, avocados in Ventura County

December 5, 2017 02:11 PM
 
Causing unknown damage to avocado and citrus groves, a fire dubbed the “Thomas wildfire” in California’s Ventura County covers tens of thousands of acres and shows no signs of slowing down.

A fast-moving wildfire in Ventura County destroyed more than 150 structures as of Dec. 5 , including 12 houses for guest workers of Limoneira Co. near Santa Paula, Calif. Photo Courtesy:  Limoneira

 

Causing unknown damage to avocado and citrus groves, a fire dubbed the “Thomas wildfire” in California’s Ventura County covers tens of thousands of acres and shows no signs of slowing down.

The Ventura County Fire Department tweeted Dec. 5 that 1,000 firefighters were battling the blaze, with 45,500 acres having “zero” containment the morning of Dec. 5.

“The fire started yesterday at about 6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. near one of ranches up Santa Paula Canyon and within two hours it was at our main ranch,” said Alex Teague, senior vice president and chief operating officer at Santa Paula, Calif.-based Limoneira Co, The night of Dec. 4, the fire moved at least five to six miles per hour, pushed on by wind gusts of 40 to 70 miles per hour, he said. 

The fire destroyed 12 of the buildings housing Limoneira’s guest workers, though nobody was hurt in the blaze, he said.
Teague said the morning of Dec. 5 Limoneira had a power outage at its packinghouse but expected power to be restored by the end of the day. 

Lemon crop damage was expected to be minimal and packing was expected to resume the morning of Dec. 6. The company continues to ship product, he said.

“The thing we are most thankful for is nobody is hurt, that’s the main part,” Teague said.

Cara Almena, chief accountant for Oxnard Lemon Company, Oxnard, Calif., said the company’s packing house was 20 miles away from Santa Paula where the wildfire was burning. “We haven’t heard any reports from growers yet,” she said.

Meanwhile, one leading avocado marketer also said the fire has interrupted its operations. 

“About a quarter of our general office people have evacuated — there is no power at the general office — and we are working out of the other two facilities,” said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and fresh marketing with Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers Inc.

Power outages were widespread Dec. 5 and Calavo was operating with generators, Wedin said.

Wedin said 1 p.m. Central on Dec. 5 that it was too early to determine the extent of grove damage because of the fire.

“It seems like it started down some groves but then it went west and stayed up pretty high and then went down to the city of Ventura,” he said.

The firm is doing some repacking of Mexican avocados, but California avocado harvest has not yet started. Wedin said California avocados volume will start in a light way Dec. 12, with larger volume expected by Jan. 16.

Wedin said the cities of Santa Paula, Ventura and Ojai appeared to have suffered the most damage from the fires, with Fillmore and the Los Angeles region also reporting fires.

Since the wildfire has tended to stay at higher elevations, Wedin said avocados may have suffered more damage than citrus groves in the region.

Wedin was evacuating his own home in Santa Paula Dec. 5 and said authorities have indicated they may not bring the fires under control until Dec. 7 or so, when current gusty winds of 30 to 40 miles per hour and higher are expected to subside.

“As long as the winds are blowing, it is more than likely they won’t get control of the fire,” he said.
 

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