Exotic plant nursery rises from ashes of Lilac Fire

BONSALL, Calif. - The owner of an exotic plant nursery destroyed in the Lilac Fire is celebrating a milestone.

The nursery, Rainforest Flora Inc., nearly burned to the ground. It was one of the leading suppliers of tillandsias, or air plants. Now a year later, it is almost back up and running.

“It was almost completely full of air plants,” explained owner Paul Isley. "Millions of them, literally, there were millions of them, because we still have a couple of million left. But 70 percent burned up.”

Miraculously, while everything else on the property of the Rainforest Flora burned to the ground last year during the Lilac Fire, some of the hearty little air plants actually survived.

"These are called Albert the Great,” Isley said, picking some up, "You can see they went through the fire and you can see that the leaves are still burnt.”

The fire broke out on Dec. 7, 2017.  Fierce Santa Ana winds turned a small brush fire into an all-out inferno.  When it was over, nearly all of the Monserrat Mobile Home Park was destroyed.  The San Louis Rey Horse Stables, made famous by video of horses stampeding for their lives, and this Rainforest Flora exotic plant nursery also burned.

"We are located on a dip in the ridge, so the fire funneled through that dip and just came right at us!” Isley said. “Everything burned! And the weird thing is, ours is the only property around that really got burned.   With the amount of wind, it was an incandescent fire like a blacksmith pumping into bellows and you get this red-hot, incandescent color, and that’s what happened here."

Video shot from Drone 5 clearly shows the devastation right after the fire, and one year later it shows the recovery.  The new nursery has risen from the ashes of the old, and vibrant hanging plants are blossoming once again.  The financial loss in plants alone was $12 million to $15 million, and it wan't covered by insurance.  The destruction was so bad that it took three months just to clear everything out. But thanks to a GoFundMe campaign set up by his daughter, Isley was able to get trailer homes right away for his employees, who live on the property and lost everything.  He said he is humbled and grateful.

"It was really special that people are willing to help like that," he said. "I’ve always believed that the times of the hardest suffering is the greatest love.”

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