Agricultural Damage from the Thomas Fire

The Thomas fire in California is the largest, most damaging blaze in California’s history. More than 100,000 residents were forced to evacuate their homes as more than 1,000 structures were destroyed and 280 were damaged across 280,000 acres of land. One of the biggest losses from the Thomas fire was in the agriculture industry, which recorded more than $170 million in losses from the fire. $25 million alone accounted for lost farming equipment and vehicles, while the remaining losses accounted for lost crop value.

The losses to the agriculture industry have far-reaching effects throughout the country, causing the prices of some crops to rise and skyrocketing demand for replacement irrigation systems and other planting devices. In Santa Paula, the district manager of Fruit Growers Supply, Mallory Salant, reported that employees couldn’t keep up with the demand from farmers eagerly attempting to restore their damaged farming structures.

Avocado Growers Suffered Most Losses

A report from Ventura County Agricultural Commissioner Henry Gonzalez stated that more than 65% of all the agricultural land burned by the Thomas fire was inhabited by avocado trees. The report states the Thomas fire destroyed more than 10,000 acres of agricultural land, which included:

  • 6,603 acres of avocado trees, which translates to more than $10 million in losses. Growers estimate that the Thomas fire claimed more than 15% of the total United States avocado yield for 2017-2018.
  • 1,767 acres of lemon trees, totaling $5.8 million in lost fruit.
  • 542 acres of orange trees, totaling $3.4 million.
  • 166 acres of tangerine crops.
  • 155 acres of walnut trees.
  • 45 acres of strawberry crops.
  • 23 acres of nursery plants.
  • Four acres of cut flowers.
  • Two acres of raspberry crops.
  • 120 cattle.

These are devastating losses for the California agriculture industry, totaling more than 7,500 tons of lost fruit crops. Many farmers also lost homes, farming structures, and agricultural equipment in addition to the lost crops. The Santa Paula-based grower Limoneira reported that the fires destroyed twelve of the company’s buildings and caused a power outage at a packinghouse.

Long-Term Effects

The avocado industry suffered the greatest losses from the Thomas fire in more ways than one. Lemon and other citrus trees are quite resilient. However, avocado trees take longer to grow and mature. Some of the destroyed trees were decades old, and it will take at least five years for a new avocado tree to start producing viable crops. The avocado industry in California will take years to fully recover.

The damage to the land itself also presents problems for the California agriculture industry. The destroyed land will require careful attention to restore it, and the fire consumed a large swath of grazing land for cattle in the area.

Legal Options for Farmers

Agricultural professionals affected by the Thomas fire may wonder if they have any legal recourse to recover their losses. There are currently several class action lawsuits in motion against utility providers who may have negligently contributed to the Thomas fire, and farmers who sustained losses may be able to join these legal actions. Additionally, insurance for farmers may only cover a portion of their losses, and legal representation can help spur claims adjusters to more reasonable settlements.

Agricultural workers affected by the Thomas fire can reach out to the attorneys at Panish Shea & Boyle LLP for a free consultation. In addition to the losses to your business you likely have personal property damage and other concerns about your insurance. Instead of taking on the insurance companies alone, let us do the heavy lifting for you so you can focus on recovering after your losses. We’ll review the details of your situation and let you know your options for recovering compensation for your losses.

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