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Wildfire causes damage to Orange County farms

Issue Date: November 4, 2020
By Kevin Hecteman

Orange County's wind-driven Silverado Fire left agricultural damage in its wake—and local farmers say it points out the need for vegetation management, especially grazing.

The fire began early in the morning Oct. 26 in the hills northeast of Irvine. As of Monday morning, it was nearly contained at 12,466 acres, according to Cal Fire. Five structures were destroyed and nine others damaged, but there were no injuries or deaths associated with the fire.

"It kind of swept down out of the foothills and up against some of the strawberry fields that were just newly planted," said Casey Anderson, manager of the Orange County Farm Bureau. "I don't think that the heat really destroyed much of the plants, but the high winds lifted up a lot of the plastic."

While out surveying fire damage, Anderson said he noted crews replacing some of that plastic covering.

One grower said the fire sprang up near his property.

"We had tremendous Santa Ana winds, and unfortunately, a fire started just over the ridgetop behind me," said A.G. Kawamura, a vegetable farmer in Irvine. "By 7:30 in the morning (Oct. 26), we could see a cloud of smoke coming our way. By 8:30, our entire area was under siege by fire."

Kawamura, who served as secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture from 2003 to 2010, expressed gratitude for the firefighters who saved his farm's offices and most of the equipment.

A nearby avocado grove was damaged, Anderson said.

"It did go up to the edge of an adjacent avocado grove and burned a lot of the perimeter edges of the grove that I could see," but the flames did not reach deeply into the grove, he said.

Mark Lopez, an Irvine farmer and president of the Orange County Farm Bureau, also found himself in the path of the blaze.

"We've got burned avocados," Lopez said. "My barn is down. We've got pieces of tractors burned."

Lopez said he's "hoping we can do some collaboration on these fuel loads," to see if "we can't bring in some animals to do it."

Kawamura agreed.

"This is the second time in 13 years that we've had a fire sweep out of the hills and come on down this way," he said. "Our challenge continues to be, when you're up against a wilderness area or a conservation area where they don't allow grazing or they don't have forest-management practices that will help eliminate some of the fuel, we're then always vulnerable to these fires. We know the winds are going to come in the fall, and the fires seem to come with them."

Kawamura said it's time to rethink how open spaces are managed.

"Let's revisit what we look at as open space," he said. "Let's revisit what we understand to be a working landscape, and if we can add agriculture through livestock grazing or different kinds of cropping systems, it might help us tremendously."

Anderson said the fire in his county pales in comparison to the blazes that have devastated wide swaths of Northern California this year, but it's more evidence of an issue that needs to be addressed.

"Orange County is a very urban county," Anderson said, "but we have these foothills and a lot of dry fuel. It's not just a forest problem; it's a statewide problem."

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at khecteman@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




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