Los Angeles County agricultural officials will impose a 96-square-mile quarantine and begin trapping melon flies, a crop-destroying cousin of Mediterranean and Oriental fruit flies, that have infested the El Segundo area in the last month.
Officials emphasized Wednesday that the program to eliminate what is believed to be the most extensive infestation of the melon fly in the county will not include aerial pesticide spraying. Instead, pesticide-laced traps will be placed in trees and backyards in a 2 1/2-square-mile residential area in the center of El Segundo.
"If this infestation took place in the San Joaquin Valley or Imperial, you'd be talking about the potential for a major disaster," said William Edwards, chief deputy with the county agricultural commissioner's office. "But the only real crops grown here are of the backyard variety."
A 96-square-mile area encompassing El Segundo and surrounding communities will be placed under quarantine, possibly as soon as Friday, Edwards said.
Residents who grow fruits and vegetables will be asked to not share their crops with relatives and friends outside the region. County officials will prohibit vendors from selling fruits and vegetables in the area, and nurseries will be asked to remove all vegetables and fruits before selling a plant or tree.
Edwards said supermarkets will not be affected because their produce is grown outside the region, and the melon fly typically does not travel indoors. The eradication and quarantine will extend for a six-month period--the equivalent of three life cycles of the pest.
"Even though we don't anticipate any problems, this action sends a signal to other states and other countries that we are making every effort to eradicate the pest and prevent its spread," Edwards added.
Since Nov. 20, seven melon flies have been trapped in the El Segundo area. On four previous occasions since 1956, a single melon fly has been trapped in the county. Only the discovery of more than one fly prompts such a program, Edwards said.
"It's hard to say on the basis of the seven flies we found how many might be in the area," he said. "They probably came from Hawaii or an Asian country. It's possible they got here through the mails or someone returning from a trip."
The traps will be made of a cotton wick dipped in a chemical known to attract male melon flies and laced with a pesticide. A thousand of the cardboard traps will be placed every square mile in the 2 1/2-square-mile area.
"There's no danger to residents. There will only be a small amount of pesticide used, and the traps will be placed out of the reach of children and pets," Edwards said.