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Good Weather Is Forecast for Start of Tonight's Malathion Spraying : Agriculture: Three helicopters are scheduled to leave Camarillo Airport in bid to combat Medflies. No interference from protesters is expected.

October 12, 1994|JOANNA M. MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Good flying weather was forecast tonight for the first of an expected 10 to 12 aerial applications of malathion over 16 square miles in the eastern Camarillo area, while on Tuesday, information hot lines were flooded with calls from concerned residents.

Forecasters called for west winds of less than 10 m.p.h., which would allow three Bell helicopters to take off from Camarillo Airport to combat a Medfly infestation that threatens millions of dollars worth of county fruit and vegetable crops.

Only if winds kick up to above 10 m.p.h. will the flights be postponed to prevent the mixture from drifting outside the eradication zone, authorities said.

But if winds stay as light as forecast, the weight of the malathion-corn syrup bait combined with the accuracy of the helicopters' navigation systems will keep the spray in the targeted area, officials said.

"No drift is expected at all," said David Buettner, deputy agriculture commissioner for Ventura County. "The droplets are relatively large and there is hardly any wind at 9 at night."

The corn syrup, which is used as bait, is mixed at a ratio of 10.8 ounces for each 1.2 ounces of malathion per acre.

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Tonight's flights, the first of the applications scheduled every other week for the next six months, will be timed to leave Camarillo Airport so that the helicopters will cross the edge of the spray zone and begin spraying at 9 p.m., said Jim Josephson, pilot and partner of San Joaquin Helicopters of Delano.

"We spray in a rectangle, with all three spray ships in formation," he said. The helicopters will head first to the northeast end of the spray zone and fly south from there. At the bottom of the zone, they will turn around and head north.

During the three- to four-hour operation, the three helicopters, accompanied by a fourth observation craft, will return to the airport to reload as many as three times, he said.

The spray is released from an altitude of 300 to 500 feet, he said. All of the helicopters are equipped with a navigation system that takes satellite feeds to pinpoint locations.

"We are accurate to within two or three feet," said Josephson, whose company also handled malathion spraying in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties.

Josephson said he expected no interference from protesters in Ventura County.

"The people in Ventura County are thankful that we'll be able to do this," he said. "Ventura County is much more agriculture-oriented" than other counties that have been sprayed.

But about 400 residents showed up at a forum Tuesday night, most of them protesting the decision to spray pesticide over their homes. Some carried placards, and others grilled officials about the need for aerial spraying.

And a loosely organized group of protesters calling itself GASP, for Group Against Spraying of People, was expected to be at the airport before takeoff tonight.

"Our long-term goal is to stop the spraying of people and to use non-lethal and biological methods," said Leonard Mehlmauer of Camarillo, who said he spoke for about 35 members of the group. "We are working to get an initiative to change the law so that we don't have to suffer this kind of spraying any more."

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The infestation was discovered Sept. 28 when two egg-carrying Mediterranean fruit flies were trapped in an orchard on the grounds of St. John's Seminary in eastern Camarillo. Since then, the total trapped has risen to 63 flies and 17 larvae.

Inspectors are no longer checking traps within the mile-radius core area where there is a known infestation. Instead, they are checking weekly the 700 to 800 traps outside the inner circle, said Larry Hawkins, spokesman with the U. S. Department of Agriculture working for the Cooperative Medfly Project.

No additional flies were found in the traps when they were checked Monday, he said.

The location of the infestation in the middle of an orchard and far from the road seems to rule out the possibility that the flies hitchhiked in on a car from Los Angeles, indicating instead that a visitor or seminarian at St. John's may have brought in the infested fruit, said Carla Agar, spokeswoman for the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

The Cooperative Medfly Project, which includes federal and state agriculture officials, has been swamped with phone calls on the Medfly Hotline, with more than 1,000 coming in the last week, a spokesman said.

Calls Tuesday focused on how to protect children, pets and cars from the spraying. Children are to be kept indoors during the spraying and their play areas washed off the next morning. Pets can be left outside, but their dishes should be cleaned and cars should be covered to protect paint from the corn syrup bait.

The hot-line number is (800) 491-1899.

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A local group called the Fruit Fly Action Cooperative Task Force handed out car covers to residents at several locations Tuesday, but members ran out by the time they had planned to begin distributing the tarps and had to turn away dozens of unhappy residents.

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