Farmers who lost crops in Lilac Fire seek advice from experts

FALLBROOK, Calif. -- Dozens of local farmers gathered Tuesday to hear advice from experts after groves of citrus and avocados were burned in the Lilac Fire.

The fire destroyed 4,100 acres and damaged nearly a thousand avocado and citrus trees in just over 13 hours.

The agricultural businesses that are a major engine of industry in the area are now struggling to figure out what to do next.

“The first thing I tell farmers is not to panic,” said Dr. Gerry Bender, UC Davis agriculture expert. “When the fire burns hot and fast, that means the leaves will be burned but the tree might be fine,” said Dr. Bender.

He says growers need to first repair the melted plastic water lines and then start watering heavily. Bender also recommends watching the trees for as long as three months before making a decisions about whether to replace the tree.

If the tree's trunk is undamaged, the tree will most likely make a recovery. But if the fire moves slowly through the bushes and the trunk gets cooked and dried up, the tree will most likely need to be replaced.

At the meeting, growers were trying to make tough decisions about whether they wanted to continue to be farmers.

“Our avocados, you can't buy that type of avocado in the store, and that's why we do it. We love it,” said Steve Peterson of Bonsall. “Of course I’ll rebuild and continue, I couldn’t imagine not.”