California wildfire threatens avocado and citrus crops

The Maria Fire that broke out in Southern California on Thursday evening, October 31, destroyed more than 3,800 hectares of agricultural land.

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The fire started at the top of South Mountain near the farming communities of Santa Paula, Somis and Saticoy, around 6:15 p.m. and continued to rage in the following days.
According to the official data, more than 1,300 firefighters are battling the blaze. About 2,700 homes 100km northwest of downtown Los Angeles are at risk. At least two homes were destroyed, NBC Los Angeles reported. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

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On Friday evening, authorities expressed some optimism, even despite dry offshore winds. «There was some progress, but we are not out of the woods yet. We still have 24 hours of critical fire weather ahead of us,» Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen told reporters at a news conference. The National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Kittell said the unfavorable winds were expected to weaken by Saturday night. Earlier Friday, Lorenzen said that saving homes and farms would be the main priority of his department.
Ventura County, and Santa Paula in particular, is one of the major agricultural centers of the region. Santa Paula calls itself the ‘citrus capital of the world’ and the city’s website says it is «surrounded by rolling hills and rugged mountain peaks in addition to orange, lemon and avocado groves.»

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According to the latest data, in 2018, Ventura County produced $244 million worth of lemons, $103 million worth of avocados, and $17 million worth of oranges, mandarins and tangelos.
The blaze was about two kilometers from the area’s largest producer, Limoneira, which manufactures about 375 million lemons and one million kilograms of avocados a year on its 1,200-hectare plot in Santa Paula.

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The Ventura County Fire Department said firefighters had mostly managed to keep the fire away from orchards and farms. Korinne Bell, the county’s Deputy Agricultural Commissioner, hopes there would be no major damage, although there have been reports of some lost lemons, avocados, lettuce, celery and strawberries.
About 10,800 residents were ordered to evacuate (it was reported Friday night). «I’m just worried about all the animals and the homes and all the ranches that are nearby on South Mountain,» Santa Paula resident Anna Garcia told NBC Los Angeles. Another resident, Devawn Escobar, said she was amazed how quickly the flames engulfed the mountain slopes.

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The Maria Fire is just 40km northwest of the Easy Fire, which broke out on Wednesday and threatened the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Officials said the 750-hectare fire had been 80 percent contained by Friday morning.
Another fire, the Getty Fire, which started Monday, destroyed 300 hectares in West Los Angeles and was 66 percent contained, Los Angeles Fire Department officials said Friday.

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