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SOUTH BEACH: MISSION VIEJO

Dead Medfly Heightens Concern

September 05, 1998|CHRIS CEBALLOS

Less than two weeks after the last of three rounds of spraying to combat an outbreak of Mediterranean fruit flies in Lake Forest, a dead medfly turned up this week in a Mission Viejo resident's backyard, bringing the total of flies found since late July to six.

"It's a concern," said Larry Hawkins, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "but it's certainly no crisis."

Since early August, the state has been releasing 5.5 million sterile fruit flies each week over a 22-square-mile area in South County in the hope of eradicating the crop-destroying medflies.

Hawkins said there are no plans for more ground-spray treatments with the insecticide malathion except at the discovery site and in adjacent lots. But the drop zone for the sterile flies has been increased by 4.5 square miles to include the area of latest discovery.

Officials are still asking residents to not move any produce from their property and to double-bag unconsumed fruit and leave it for trash pickup.

Though the sterile-fly drops will end by December, the quarantine zone will remain in effect until there are no insect discoveries for three medfly generations--three to four months--officials said.

Hawkins said there is very little chance that aerial malathion spraying will be necessary. "You would have to find so many flies so widely distributed that you could not complete eradication by any other means," Hawkins said.

The last regional medfly infestation was in 1993, when 59 flies were found in central Orange County.

Medflies can destroy more than 250 varieties of fruits, nuts and vegetables by laying their eggs in the ripening fruit and rendering it inedible. A full-blown infestation could cost the state billions of dollars in lost crops and eradication treatment, officials said.

Local produce growers have had to meet stricter safety inspection standards but have otherwise been unaffected by the quarantine.

"The hot weather has been far worse," said Bruce Johann, assistant manager at Armstrong Garden Centers in Lake Forest.

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