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California fire threatens cropsThe Ventura County agricultural commissioner is reporting that hundreds of acres of berries have been damaged in the Springs Fire, together with 600 avocado trees, 500 boxed trees, several irrigation systems and hoop houses.
“It’s looking really bad,” said Agricultural Commissioner Henry Gonzales, adding that he’ll have a better grasp of the totality of loss next week. Until then, it won’t be known if the fire has impacted production of Ventura County’s No. 1 crop, strawberries. Strawberries grown in the county generated $625 million in revenue last year.
Currently, Gonzales has a report of 300 acres of berries having suffered harm.
The fire is not the only thing that’s causing problems for growers, it is also the winds.
“The winds yesterday wreaked havoc on the hoop houses, just shredded them,” Gonzales said. “They’re in many cases, just PVC pipe and they’re not that structurally sound.”
John Krist, CEO of the Farm Bureau of Ventura County, said it’s unlikely the fire would take out much of the berry-growing land in its path because those areas are thoroughly irrigated, thus not highly flammable.
“We worry more about fire getting into orchards because those will certainly go,” he said. “This is a very unusual sort of fire both in time of year and direction it’s taken.”
It’s more common to see fires coming from Los Padres National Forest and burning through orchard fields, much less common to see it coming toward strawberry acreage on the Oxnard Plain.
“It’s kind of odd,” Krist said.
Actively monitoring the situation is Don Bowden, vice president of operations with Reiter Affiliated Cos., which subleases property near the fire that it uses for growing berries.
“The wind shifted and is blowing inland so we may have to shut down today because of wind coming back,” he said Friday. “We have a lot of concern for our workers’ safety.”
Reiter operates a number of ranches in the vicinity with about 60 percent of its raspberry production in the area around Lewis Road.
Ventura County Environmental Health returned to the site Friday and has cleared the farm of any hazards, said Rick Bandelin, a manager with the hazardous materials program. Some stored organic fertilizers were damaged in the fire, but those do not cause environmental health concerns, officials said.
“It doesn’t appear the contents inside were affected or released,” he said.
Reiter is the production arm for Driscoll’s, which sells and markets the berries. Driscoll’s food safety officials visited the ranches near the fire Friday and cleared them for harvesting.
Publication date: 5/6/2013
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