Winds fueling California fires cause for concern

With the California wildfires continuing to spread across the state, growers are reporting that for now, most of the damage they’ve seen is from the very winds that are fueling those fires. 

“We have employees affected by the fires. They’ve been evacuated from their houses and they don’t know if their homes have been damaged,” says Greg Lewis of Duda Farm Fresh Foods in Oxnard, Ca. “On the ranches our people are working around the clock to maintain adequate moisture levels in the ground and safeguard the crops. The quality has not been affected to this point and we’re very fortunate that presently neither the fires nor the accompanying winds have caused any damage to our ranches.” 

Photo credit: Russell Takahashi with Allied Avocado and Citrus

The wind effect
“Agriculturally speaking, the wind and its conditions have curtailed harvest,” says Russ Widerburg of Boskovich Farms Inc. also in Oxnard. “Monday, we had 40-50 mile winds on the plains here. Tuesday had the biggest winds which curtailed harvest on a lot of items and yesterday they were out harvesting. It’s a lot less windy but it’s coming in gusts.” 

Widerburg says they can see the effects of the fire surrounding them. “On Tuesday, the smoke was mostly north of us and west of us. We didn’t really even get it here in the Oxnard plants where we farm,” he says. “It was the smoke from the Santa Clarita fire and it strangely got a little smoky in the south part of the county.” 

That said, the smoke seems to be blowing away from the crops. “For now, the winds are supposed to be east to west so it’s blowing everything offshore,” says Widerburg. “And we’re supposed to have this wind until Friday.”

Other wind concerns
Instead of concerns over smoke, the wind is causing other troubles—Monday evening, it knocked out power for Boskovich for about six to eight hours. “The generators kicked in for refrigeration but the computer systems were down and it backed up loading. This time of year we load 20-24 hours a day,” he says.

As far as any direct effect on commodities, Boskovich is watching over its more tender items such as leafy greens. “We’ll probably lose some product to wind damage because it just got beat up,” Widerburg says. “We’ll have to assess the damage by the end of the week. We’ve had fires before where we get ash but knock on wood, we’re not seeing any of that now because we haven’t been in the direct line of any smoke or ash coming from the fire.” 

Lewis adds that Duda as well is in reactive mode to the current events. “We’re reacting instead of preparing since no one can predict what Mother Nature will do next,” he says. “The good news is the forecast is for the wind to end after Thursday.” 

Heat damage to citrus and avocado orchards
"Some of the citrus and avocado orchards in Santa Paula nestled close to the foothills have suffered some heat damage to trees and fruit,” said Russell Takahashi with Allied Avocado and Citrus. “Our orchards here have not been injured and we have been fully operational through the fire windstorm so far. “However, we do have the Thomas Fire moving towards us from the West, and the Kegal Fire moving towards us from the east, so we are keeping a close eye on the situation as it develops. At this stage, we are taking precautions and making any appropriate preparations to ensure the safety of our staff and the facility." 

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