Fast-moving Maria fire in rural Southern California threatens avocado, citrus crops – NBC News, NBC News

Fast-moving Maria fire in rural Southern California threatens avocado, citrus crops – NBC News, NBC News

The latest Southern California wildfire has torched nearly 9, 000 rural acres and threatens millions of dollars worth of avocados, oranges and lemons, authorities said Friday.

The Maria fire ignited atop South Mountain, near the farming communities of Santa Paula, Somis and Saticoy, at about 6: 15 PM local time Thursday and continued to rage until Friday afternoon, officials said.

More than 500 firefighters are battling the blaze that’s threatening about 2, (homes, roughly) miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, officials said.

At least two dwellings have been destroyed so far,NBC Los Angeles reported.

The Ventura County Fire Department has brought in help from across the region to battle both the Maria fire and the Easy fire, which started on Wednesday near Simi Valley.

“We’re in the middle of a big fight, and we’re about a week into this and the end is not yet in sight,” Ventura County Fire ChiefMark Lorenzen told reporters Friday afternoon. “It has been an uphill battle ever since.”

Firefighters have been battling flames and drones which have been slowing water-dropping planes and helicopters, according to Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub. He urged drone operators to steer clear of the fire zone.

“This creates a very significant hazard for our airborne firefighting assets and causes them to land and stop firefighting until that small aircraft is out of the area , *** Ayub said. “It hampers our firefighting efforts.

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Earlier on Friday,Chief Lorenzensaid saving homes and farms would be his department’s top priority.

“We are actively engaged in structure protection, as well as protecting the agricultural assets there with avocados and citrus orchards that have significant values,” he said.

Ventura County, and Santa Paula in particular, is one of the region’s major agricultural hubs.

Santa Paula calls itself the “Citrus Capital of the World “and the city’s website says it’s” surrounded by rolling hills and rugged mountain peaks in addition to orange, lemon and avocado groves. “

In 2018,Ventura County produced$ 244 million worth of lemons, $ 103 million in avocados, $ (million of Valencia oranges and $) million in mandarins and tangelos, according to latest figures from the Ventura County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office.

Flames came within a mile of the area’s biggest grower, Limoneira Company, which produces about 375 million lemons and 2 million pounds of avocados a year on its 3, 000 – acre spread in Santa Paula.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Limoneira President and CEO Harold Edwards said Friday morning that flames appeared to be moving away from his farm.

“It looks scary as hell, but I don’t think it’ll ultimately have much of an effect on us, “Edwards told NBC News, adding the fire department’s” response has been incredible, everyone’s been on it. “

Ventura County Chief Deputy Agricultural Commissioner Korinne Bell is hopeful there won’t be major damage, but she’s already heard reports of some lost lemons.

“I doubt there’ll be none, there’s likely going to be some” lost crops, Bell told NBC News. “We haven’t been able to get out into those areas because they’re still on fire.”

About 8, 000 residents in the area were ordered to evacuate Thursday night and Friday morning, officials said.

“I’m just worried about all the animals and the homes and all the ranches that are nearby on South Mountain, “evacuating Santa Paula resident Anna Garcia told NBC Los Angeles.

Another fleeing Santa Paula resident, Devawn Escobar, said she was amazed how fast the flames gobbled up the South Mountain chaparral.

“It just started, just a small quarter and then within minutes it expanded really quickly, really quickly,” Escobar said, gesturing to flames visible from miles away .

The Maria fire is just 25 miles northwest of the Easy fire, which ignited Wednesday and initially threatened theRonald Reagan P residential Library.

The 1, 860 – acre blaze had been 80 percentcontained by Friday morning, officials said.

Then the Getty fire, which started Monday, has torched 745 acres of West Los Angeles and was 66 percent contained,Los Angeles Fire Department officials said Friday. All mandatory evacuations were lifted at about10 am local time Friday.

Image: David K. LiDavid K. Li

David K. Li is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.

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