Editor’s Note: I’m a resident of Ventura who evacuated earlier this week as a result of the #ThomasFire. I have been able to return to an intact home, unlike dozens of my friends, whose homes have been destroyed. Thousands remain under evacuation order, there is a boil water advisory and air quality is poor. Containment remains elusive. The scene is surreal.
Much of the media effort has focused on urban impacts, with little reporting about what this fire complex – unprecedented in size – might mean for agriculture. I hope this post remedies that, a bit. And I hope we’ll see lots of information about this moving forward.
If you’re a regular reader of the UC Food Observer, you know Chris Sayer, a fifth-generation Ventura County farmer. He provides insightful commentary on farming (and life). He sent me this email this morning; you should read it:
“This week is California Soils Week.
I have been chewing on an appropriate commentary, but hadn’t found quite the right angle on it. What was there I could say that was new?
And then the fire came.
A dear friend was one of the first evacuees; fleeing her home with trailered horses before the news even broke to the world. The last three days have been a literal whirlwind of bad news. I haven’t been able to keep track of all the friends and acquaintances who have suffered from this fire. Homes, farms and businesses are gone.
And we have several more days of Santa Ana winds to go.
I’ve been fortunate. Though evacuated from one ranch, I’m safe at the other. I’ve lost nothing but sleep. Writing was something I haven’t had time for. Besides, how could I worry about the soil at a time like this?
Yet it occurs to me that this will be a disaster of the soils as well. As I write this, nearly one hundred thousand acres of my home county have been scorched. On barren hillsides and rangeland, the soil lies wounded and vulnerable.
A friend is putting together a GoFundMe to obtain seed to help restore grazing land and secure slopes. Many details to be worked out. And we’ll need some rain. But soil is built upon the leaves and roots of plants, and we know how to make that happen.
We can help the soil help us to recover.
That seems like exactly what I should write about for California Soils Week.”
Additional Editor’s Note: UC ANR – which hosts the UC Food Observer – has a wide range of resources relating to wildfire (recovery, mitigation, etc.). There is useful information for homeowners, landowners, farmers, etc. If you’re a member of the media with questions, click here for a full listing of UC ANR fire experts.
If you live in Ventura or Santa Barbara County, you will find University resources about wildfire and its effects on people and crops, as well as contact information for various governmental/regulatory agencies here. (There are also links to crop loss calculators). A primary source of fire-related info for Ventura County residents is Ready: Ventura County.
Our UC ANR colleagues at UCCE Sonoma County have developed a resource website in response to the recent fire disaster in Northern California; it contains wildfire recovery information and links to state and federal resources. They are ahead of us in the recovery process, and I encourage you to visit this site.
Photo credit: Satellite image from the Terra satellite of the smoke from the Thomas Fire in Ventura County, on December 5, along with the smoke from 2 other smaller fires (Rye and Creek) in Southern California.
Cover crops help build healthy soil.
Cover crops provide bee forage.