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Fear of Deep Freeze Chills Growers' Yule

December 25, 1987|KATHIE BOZANICH | Times Staff Writer

For most, it's a time to trim the tree, wrap presents, enjoy family, dream of sugar plums and wait for Santa Claus.

But this Christmas Eve for some San Diego County growers was a time to keep an all-night vigil in their groves, as protection of crops from the cold took precedence over traditional yule activities.

The frigid temperatures were expected to "bottom out" Thursday night, with many lows in the mid-20s and the coldest lows near 20, said National Weather Service forecaster Wilbur Shigehara.

Doug Anderson said he cannot remember ever having to spend Christmas Eve in the fields in the 30-plus years he has lived on the Water Mountain Ranch in Pauma Valley.

"I can remember helping a friend pick up avocados on Christmas Day after a windstorm, but I can't remember having to spend all of Christmas Eve out with the wind machines and grove heaters," he said.

Anderson said about 40 of his 125 acres of Valencia oranges and lemons will require frost protection.

'Live With It'

"When you're a farmer you live with this," Anderson said. "The kids are home from school for the holidays and they'll be out helping in the groves."

Sleep would be set aside for the next couple of days, as Anderson planned to celebrate Christmas Day as usual after staying up the whole night.

"It keeps me busy, but if you get through it all right you are able to look the next day and say, 'Well, we accomplished something, son of a gun,' and that makes it all worthwhile," he said.

Vic Pankey, who grows tangerines and avocados in Bonsall, said he would have to forgo a trip to his brother's house in Bakersfield to stay home and mind his fields.

"We'll start with the water and wind machines as soon as temperatures drop into the mid-20s," he said. "Oh well, I hear Interstate 5 is in bad shape anyway, so it's just as well we are staying here.

"I'll spend Christmas Day getting ready for the next night," he added. "We'll fit in some holiday celebrating, somehow."

Ben Hillebrecht, who owns 100 acres of citrus groves in Escondido, said spending Christmas Eve out with the heaters and the wind machines goes with the territory.

"It's part of the game, and if I don't like it I can do something else," he said. "But of course I like it. I've been doing this all my life, and I'm 58 now."

He added that he and his wife usually don't have too much planned for the holidays now that their children have all grown up.

"I do know what I want for Christmas, though," Hillebrecht said. "A good rain."

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