Ventura County farmers see long road to recovery after Thomas Fire destroys crops

SANTA PAULA, Calif. (KABC) -- The devastation from the Thomas Fire will impact Ventura County for years to come, especially farmers whose crops were destroyed in the blaze.

For avocado farmers like Jason Cole who lost 30,000 trees, it could take up to a decade to be back in full production.

"It's depressing to come to work. That's something we've all noticed, even from our employees 'cause you're basically just out here still cutting down what's left damage wise," said Cole, who manages the Cole Ranch in Santa Paula.

Cole ranch lost one-third of the farm's avocado trees in the fire. Although some are still standing, Cole said it's doubtful they'll grow back and replanting isn't the only thing that needs to be done.

"We don't have any rain so we have to get irrigation everywhere, and all of our infrastructure has been destroyed. I'm talking the valves, the hose, the sprinklers, the risers that connect to the hose. Everything is just gone," Cole said.

Agriculture is a $45 billion industry in California. Ventura and Santa Barbara counties hit by the Thomas fire make up the biggest avocado and lemon producing region in the country.

"We're just going to pick the fruit we can and hopefully we get some money from crop insurance," Cole said.

Cole added that the ranch also relies on a tree assistance program from the U.S. Government and a resource conservation grant. But, all of that depends on rain and finding funds to rebuild the irrigation system.
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