Avocado trees near Fallbrook, Calif., suffered damage from the Lilac fire in San Diego County, which was 95% contained as of Wednesday morning, Dec. 13, according to a story by The San Diego Union-Tribune. The Thomas fire is still only 25% contained, so fully assessing damage to avocado groves in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties is still underway. Photo by Albert Munoz/Mission Produce
More than a week after it began, firefighters reported California’s massive Thomas fire was only 25% contained the evening of Dec. 12.
Damage to the avocado industry was still undetermined but thought to be significant.
The Ventura County Fire Department reported the blaze — which stared Dec. 4 — had covered 236,000 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and destroyed 700 homes. Fire officials said the Thomas Fire was the fifth largest wildfire in modern California history.
“The fire has stayed very active in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties,” said Tom Bellamore, president of the California Avocado Commission, Irvine, Calif. Ventura County has more than a third of California’s avocado acreage and Santa Barbara County also has avocado groves.
Bellamore said it is hard to know how many groves were destroyed and how many were merely damaged.
Some growers lost their homes and groves, while others lost a portion of groves and others suffered less substantial damage. Grove irrigation systems were also damaged or destroyed in the blaze.
“We really don’t know how many groves are in each category,” Bellamore said. “That’s what we are trying to get a handle on while the fire is still going and that makes it harder.”
Bellamore said growers have varying levels of insurance, but many never envisioned the type of damage the fire has caused.
“You don’t have this scenario in mind when you buy crop insurance but it certainly happened,” he said.
Bellamore said industry leaders will work with the USDA Farm Service Agency on efforts to rebuild destroyed groves and structures.