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Ventura County Farmers Keep All-Night Vigil Against Frost

December 26, 1987|PATRICIA KLEIN | Times Staff Writer

Farmers in Ventura County worked through the night with heaters, anti-frost chemicals, wind-blowing machines and helicopters to protect their crops as temperatures dipped into the 20s early Friday.

The National Weather Service forecast similar temperatures for late Friday and early today.

"Probably in excess of $1 million was spent countywide on protective measures for the crops," said Terry Schaeffer, an agricultural meteorologist with the NWS in Santa Paula.

"We're just expending a whole lot of money for energy, labor, gasoline, diesel and fuel pumps. Everything was going full bore.

"It's safe to say we sustained significant damage," he said.

Al Guilin, executive vice president of Limoneira Associates, which farms 3,000 acres of citrus fruit in Ventura County, said his company had already spent more than $100,000 on frost protection.

Wind Machines Monitored

Guilin said workers would probably be up until early today monitoring wind machines and tending orchard heaters.

"The extent of the frost damage won't be apparent for a few days," Guilin said. "But I wouldn't be surprised if the damage is over $1 million countywide."

Citrus and avocado trees are particularly vulnerable to the cold, Schaeffer said.

The temperature dipped to 22 degrees in isolated areas of the county, but averaged 24 to 26 degrees at key agricultural stations in the inland valleys, he said.

"You start to see damage at 28 degrees, and we averaged six to 12 hours at under 28 degrees," Schaeffer said.

"We won't know for a couple of months how much damage was sustained," he said. "You can damage the fruit, you can damage the tree, you can damage the next pick.

"The post-freeze weather has a bearing on how much damage. If it were to warm up real fast, for instance, that's a disaster," Schaeffer said, "That inhibits the repair process."

Northeast Winds Should Help

Although temperatures were expected to again drop into the high 20s late Friday and early today, northeast winds of 5 to 10 m.p.h. forecast for the county's east and west valleys should make the situation less critical, Schaeffer said.

"That should save the farmers a lot in crop protection costs," he said.

Wind protects plants by mixing warm air 200 to 300 feet off the ground with colder air below, Schaeffer said. Similarly, helicopters and wind machines mix warm and cold air.

Meanwhile, a San Fernando Valley shelter took homeless people in for the night.

Salvation Army Capt. John Purdell said 47 people, including 18 children and 15 women, stayed at the organization's Van Nuys shelter or motels paid for by the Salvation Army on Friday night.

The shelter served breakfast to 55 people Friday and expected to serve dinner to more than 150, he said.

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