It’s the middle of December in what should be the wettest month of California’s rainy season. Yet windswept infernos continue to ravage the dry tinder landscape. The Santa Ana’s blow with hurricane forces whipping the flames up chaparral and ridges.
These out-of-control infernos aren’t only torching forests. The rural-urban intersection has grown, and widespread development puts more people, farms and packing houses directly in the path of destruction. The blazes are imperiling the avocado and citrus orchards, vineyards and fields of organic farms. Many are in the bulls-eye of this climatic conflagration.
Smoke fire and destruction erupt in rural areas of the state.
Since the Thomas Fire ignited on December 4th in Ventura County, CA, it has scorched over 242,000 acres, ripping through several counties, burning an area larger than New York City and Boston combined. Firefighters continue to battle the Thomas Fire, and as of this writing, the threat is still very real.
Ventura County is California’s largest growing region for both lemons and avocados. The state produces about 90 percent of the nation’s avocado crop and 80 percent of its lemons. The flames along with hot winds and falling ash have hit the industry hard. The California Avocado Commission reports that “… imagery has identified approximately 4,500 avocado acres currently within the Thomas Fire perimeter (click here to view map).
In San Diego County, the Lilac Fire burned over 4,100 acres and destroyed more than 100 structures through Bonsall and Fallbrook, CA. This fire began just 2 ½ miles from CCOF certified hydro-organic growers Colin and Karen Archipley of Archie’s Acres. Luckily, the hurricane force winds pushed it westward away from their farm, but some of their neighbors were not so lucky. One of them, Beck Ranch, had 3 of their 12 greenhouses collapse due to the wind force.
Lorena Estrada from Sundance Natural Foods, one of the leading marketers of organic citrus and avocados, indicated that “It defiantly hit close to home. Last Friday the packing shed was under mandatory evacuation, and we had to shut down production. Although none of our groves in San Diego have been affected, we still have fires up north, and we are still assessing the possible damage there.”
Ramifications to growers are yet unclear.
It has not been easy getting information regarding the growers affected in the ongoing fires. A spokesperson from CCOF indicated that at least one organic operation has been affected. No one is fully aware of the impact yet- because the fires continue to burn.
The issues affecting producers are certainly complex; they range from physical losses of structures & irrigation systems, to worries about smoke taint, water toxicity, and extremely long commutes on top of being displaced. The emotional distress is exhausting and once the fires are contained it will be a long recovery for many.
Wildfires are a growing danger to agriculture.
It’s clear that the climate is shifting and fire is now an extreme threat – especially in the West. According to the US Forestry Service, over 9.1 million acres have burned in the US in 2017, a 30% increase from the past year. Twenty years ago, 15% of the US Forestry’s budget was spent on fire suppression; this year 57% will be earmarked to fight wildfires. And it’s not enough because wildfires are becoming more frequent and are burning longer.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently indicated that climate change impacts could cost the US agriculture sector up to $9.2 billion by 2039. With predictions that the total economic cost of this year’s wildfire season in CA to be as high as $180 billion, it’s clear that the future is before us now.
Governor Brown indicates that “This is the new normal…”
California suffered through four years of drought. Then last year’s record rains in CA produced the lush growth that fuels the current flames. That growth coupled with record high temperatures baked all residual humidity out of the landscape making a recipe for disaster.
Christmas day is on the horizon, and a ridiculously resilient ridge has lodged itself firmly off the West Coast deflecting any chance of rain for weeks to come.
As the climate changes, so do weather patterns, and we should expect parts of California to be under a constant year-round threat of wildfire.
Organic Growers are in need of assistance.
The CCOF Foundation has a means to help. They established a hardship grant fund that gives funds to organic producers who have suffered adversity. Most of this year’s recipients were affected by either hurricanes or fires. The CCOF Foundation makes individual grants up to $2500. With no service fees, 100% of your donation goes directly to organic producers in need. If you want to make a real impact on the lives of these farmers, visit and give to the Bricmont Hardship Assistance Fund.
As the fires continue to burn, let’s stand by those who feed us in this time of climate change.