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Thursday, February 21 , 2019, 6:52 am | Mostly Cloudy 43º


Avocado Growers Bear Brunt of Gap Fire’s Devastating Effects

Countywide, the blaze caused $1 million in crop damage, although the multiyear cost could be much higher than that.

The Gap Fire consumed 25 acres of the avocado trees on Justin Bosio’s ranch in San Jose Canyon off North Patterson Avenue. It amounted to a tenth of his crop, at a total cost of about $100,000. (Rob Kuznia / Noozhawk photo)

When Justin and Cheryl Bosio learned a couple of weeks ago that a brushfire was burning in a canyon about five miles away from their hillside avocado ranch near Goleta, they weren’t too worried.

“Originally, we thought they’ll get this out before it gets to us because it seemed so far away,” Cheryl Bosio said. “Then the winds picked up.”

What began as a small brush blaze morphed into a massive wildfire that charred entire mountainsides, consuming 10,000 acres of parched brush in the hills above Goleta.

The Gap Fire also cooked 25 acres of the Bosios’ avocado trees in San Jose Canyon off North Patterson Avenue. It amounted to a tenth of their crop, at a total cost of about $100,000.

“Because we were ready for it, it really wasn’t that nerve-wracking,” said Justin Bosio, the fourth-generation owner of the property. His groves were also damaged by the Painted Cave Fire in 1990.

Countywide, the Gap Fire burned 200 acres of the 8,300 acres of avocado trees that are grown by farmers, Agriculture Commissioner William Gillette said.

The fire’s sweep affected 11 growers, costing them a total of $1 million in crop damage this year, Gillette said. But the total multiyear cost could hit $9.5 million, after taking into consideration all the necessary replanting, as well as the fact that it takes several years for new trees to bear fruit.

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On Justin Bosio’s property, one can plainly see where the fire ran out of steam: Acres of burned-to-a-crisp trees and fried brush give way to pristine green vegetation. (Rob Kuznia / Noozhawk photo)
“They will feel that for a number of years to come,” Gillette said.

Because President Bush declared as a disaster area Santa Barbara County and other portions of California hit by wildfires this year, Gillette said there is a good chance federal aid will come to the growers in the form of either subsidies or low-interest loans.

Avocados are considered a major crop in Santa Barbara County — the 10th largest of the 100 or so grown here. (Strawberries are the largest.) Last year, avocados had a gross value of $21 million in the county.

Gillette said avocados were the only crop hit because they tend to grow better on hillsides than fruit such as lemons.

Authorities said the orchards on Goleta’s perimeter were a godsend to the city’s residents, providing a buffer zone of water-soaked trees and brush-free terrain that helped stop the inferno in its tracks.

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The Gap Fire raged over 10,000 acres of parched brush in the hills above Goleta. (Ron Williams photo)
“I firmly believe that some of the people who live in the homes on the oceanside should be thankful they were there,” said Ken Stanley, district manager of Calavo, the world’s largest packer of avocados.

Indeed, on the Bosios’ foothills property, one can clearly see where the fire ran out of steam: Acres of burned-to-a-crisp trees and fried brush give way to pristine green vegetation.

However, that’s partly because Justin Bosio tried his own hand at firefighting. The Bosios say the flames raced across the hillside to their ranch in a matter of hours. While Cheryl Bosio packed up some belongings, her husband and a friend with a water truck headed toward a portion of the blaze that had begun to invade the property. Late at night, using the water truck and shovels, they managed to snuff out many small patches of flames before they could spread beyond control.

“He really worked hard to keep it away from the house,” she said. “We’re calling him the town hero right now because he really saved us.”

Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at [email protected]

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