After the Thomas Fire: growers inspire with resiliency, optimism

Secretary Ross looks over a part of the Thomas Fire burn area with avocado grower Dan Pinkerton while Ventura County agricultural commissioner Henry Gonzales looks on.
All photos courtesy of Ken Melban, California Avocado Commission.

The recent holiday season collapsed in flames for thousands of Ventura and Santa Barbara County residents in the path of the catastrophic Thomas Fire. It is considered the largest fire in California history, burning nearly 282,000 acres and destroying more than one-thousand homes and other structures. The fire spread across 440 square miles, more land than any California city except Los Angeles. It burned all the way to the Pacific Ocean, and it also damaged terrain near the community of Fillmore, about 30 miles away.

California farmers were in the path of the fire, as well, and I was privileged yet saddened to meet with some of them last week on a trip through the burn area. There was a profound feeling of devastation when standing on homesites that were completely leveled by fire.

The fire burned all the way to the ocean.

Avocado growers suffered damage across nearly five-thousand acres of groves, and citrus growers also experienced losses. One of the things I learned is that avocado orchards were more susceptible than citrus because the plantings are generally at higher elevations, where the Thomas Fire cut much of its destructive path. There were also significant losses to rangelands.

However, I must point out that as I visited with growers I was struck right away by their resiliency and their optimism. They shifted into recovery mode almost immediately, going into their orchards as soon as it was safe to replace irrigation drip tape that melted in the fire, in order to protect their trees and soils from further damage.

A charred avocado grove near Santa Paula.

Incidentally, those irrigation systems demonstrated the value of working Ag lands by generating enough moisture to help keep the fire from doing even more damage to homes.

I wish to thank the California Avocado Commission for hosting my visit. The farmers I met last week are already looking to the long-term, talking about opportunities to rebuild rather than focusing on what was lost. Their sense of cooperation and commitment to community is truly inspiring.

 

Secretary Ross (fifth from right) with growers in Fillmore.

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