San Diego Growers Flee Wildfires

Growers and their employees are among the hundreds of thousands of people evacuating their homes in the greater San Diego area this week.

Wildfires blown by fierce desert winds have reduced hundreds of Southern California homes to ashes, the Associated Press (AP) reports. The fires began Monday in Northern San Diego County and exploded to 145,000 acres. Winds gusted to 70 mph and scattered embers onto dry brush, sparking more fires. At least 14 fires were burning in Southern California from San Diego to Malibu, AP reports. More than 250,000 residents were told to flee San Diego County alone. The Del Mar Fairgrounds on the coast was turned into an evacuation center.

San Diego boasts one of the world’s largest concentrations of commercial flower growers and is the leading horticultural county in the United States. The variety of crops grown includes: cut flowers and cut foliage, indoor flowering plants, green foliage plants, cacti and succulents, bedding plants, herbs, bulbs, sod, landscape trees and shrubs, fruit trees and cut Christmas trees.

On Tuesday, we checked in with Stefan Reiner, general manager at Selecta First Class (SFC) in Encinitas, which is also at the same location as cut flower grower and propagator Dramm & Echter.

“It was crazy yesterday (Monday),” Reiner said. “Encinitas got partially evacuated and the rest is on call. I sent everybody home and most won’t come in today either (except for me). It changed overnight from a fire far away to a fire right in our neighborhood. One of our employees had to evacuate his home and others were on call. Most are out of the critical area by now, as long as the winds don’t change. It’s another crazy day today and we all hope it will be over by tomorrow (or under control lets say).”

Dramm & Echter also sent people home Monday and was had a skeleton crew Tuesday, he said. “The sun is rising and winds are calm in our area (at least for the moment),” Reiner said Tuesday morning. “We have single digits humidity and dark smoky air with ash all over the place. But all SFC employees and families are safe and that is what is important.”

Ken and Deena Altman of Altman Plants in Vista also woke up to a dark sky Tuesday morning. “Ken and I woke up with a lot of smoke in the air but we were not concerned thinking it was the remains of the Fallbrook fire which we could not see through the haze,” Deena said. “However, we got the call an hour later to evacuate our house. There was a new fire that started at the La Jolla Indian Reservation about 3:00 am this morning (Tuesday). We threw stuff together and joined the lines of cars winding down to the I-15 freeway. Now we are at our main facility in Vista. So far all of our nurseries are okay. Deliveries are on hold as the highways are a mess. Again, most employees could not make it in to the various nursery sites. However, power is up and necessary nursery functions are being done.”

On Monday, Altman’s was surrounded by fires to the north and the south. Most of the employees could not make it to work and major roads were closed coming in.

“Power also was down at our main facility so watering was done by hand,” Deena said. “The winds were our worst problem with some plastic roofs tearing loose, however we feel very lucky that we had no other major structural damage. A number of our employees were evacuated from their homes. Some of our retailers have garden centers that have significant damage from the wind. Business in San Diego County is at a stand still.”

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