Calif. Wildland Fire Causes 'Unquantifiable' Damage

May 9, 2013
The wildland fire that ripped through Ventura County caused significant damage to agricultural lands, but the total value of the damage has yet to be determined.

May 09--The Ventura County Agricultural Commissioner's office has reported new property damage amounts nearly a week after the start of the Springs Fire but said it was too early to determine the money lost.

The commissioner's staff, which surveyed the boundaries of the fire and talked to property owners and growers when possible, reported Wednesday there was "significant damage to agriculture" but said the total damage "remains largely unquantifiable at this time."

The fire, which started Thursday, was 95 percent contained Wednesday, and the burn area was listed as 24,251 acres, officials said. It previously had been reported at 28,000 acres.

Capt. Mike Lindbery, a spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department said people with GPS devices have been walking the fire perimeter now that they can do so safely and are more accurately measuring how much has burned.

Cattle pasture and grazing land was the most affected in terms of acreage, with at least 4,000 acres determined to have been burned.

In terms of crops, avocados suffered the most damage because their groves were closest to the fires that burned the mountain valleys. About 50 acres were affected from scorched trees and damaged avocados, and staff members said it was unknown whether the trees will recover. On Friday, Agricultural Commissioner Henry Gonzales reported 600 avocado trees damaged.

About 5 acres of lemon trees were damaged, and those locations are "spotty," according to the staff. The fruit was less affected than the avocados because it is less flammable and the orchards were farther from the fires.

A nursery was "hit hard," and an estimated 500 boxed trees were destroyed, the staff reported. Also, a beekeeper lost several hives. Cabbage and beets were the main type of row crops damaged, the staff said, but less than 3 acres were reported lost.

The day after the fire started, Gonzales said 300 acres of berries were damaged. The staff report attributes the losses to heat and says the monetary loss is "unquantifiable at this point." Some growers may be unable to sell any surviving fruit that was close to the fires because it may not meet quality control or marketing requirements, the staff said.

Growers also lost equipment including aboveground irrigation systems and their components. Hoops and plastic that cover berry crops were burned or melted, the staff said. Laguna Farms, a business off Old Lewis Road that lost an agriculture building that held fertilizer, does not have a final assessment yet, the staff reported.

During the blaze, which started at Highway 101 and Camarillo Springs Road in Camarillo and burned to the ocean, fire officials and property owners ordered workers to stop harvesting in the fields near the fire, the staff said. As a result, growers also lost time and labor.

Definite figures will not be available for some time because growers and property owners are still assessing damage, the staff said.

An online crop and operations damage prevention manual by the Ventura County Fire Department says crops and ranches may need "very large" areas of defensible space -- buffer zones around buildings or crops that have been cleared of fire fuel such as weeds, brush and other vegetation.

Farms and ranches can be at risk from ember fallout or intrusion even when a fire is not near, the manual says. Santa Ana winds can carry embers a mile or more ahead of the fire, according to the authors.

"Wildfire is now a year-round reality in Ventura County and the areas most at risk may be farm and ranch properties," the authors wrote.

Full containment of the fire is expected Thursday.

A total of 247 firefighters continued monitoring the blaze Wednesday, and more were expected to go home.

One firefighter suffered a minor injury Monday, bringing the toll to nine, Lindbery said.

Copyright 2013 - Ventura County Star, Calif.

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