California’s 2017 outdoor cannabis harvest is currently being decimated by a string of wildfires that have rapidly engulfed huge swaths of land in the state since the fires began late Sunday night.
Over the past 36 hours, the 17 fires — including the Atlas Fire in Napa County and the Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County — have caused unspeakable damage in Northern California. At least 15 people have been killed by the sudden blaze. The fires have burned over 1,500 structures and over 115,000 acres, and entire communities have evacuated as the flames continue to spread, according to a morning update from CalFire.
Of the 64 wildfires currently burning across the state, twelve of those fires are burning at various points along the U.S. 101 Highway, the quintessential lifeline of the Northern California cannabis community. Despite also earning the name of wine country, Santa Rosa and Sonoma County have become one of the most competitive cannabis markets in the state. Like so many other places, the industry boom has driven up Santa Rosa warehouse space, and in many cases, people have been paying a premium just to have somewhere to dry their harvest.
By Monday afternoon, reports began surfacing about how some of the first farms had been destroyed.
Steve Hesh, one of the cultivation leads at Foxworth Farms, went to bed on Sunday night expecting another day of the harvest in the morning. Not long after waking up, he found himself yards from the firestorm. He described the experience of heading north into Sonoma in the early hours Monday morning.
“I didn’t really know what was going on,” Hesh said. “I turned on the radio and got the news, and then saw the smoke as I hit Santa Rosa.”
After getting through some crazy traffic, Hesh approached the fire on the highway.
“I could see the fire working its way parallel to the road I was going to be driving up,” he said. “I pulled over and thought about it a minute and then I was like, ‘Well, that car went up, I’m going too.’ Then, while driving up there, I almost turned around. I got within 100 yards of the fire.”
When Hesh arrived at the farm, he was surprised to discover they had clean air and even a pinch of blue sky. “But we had fire on three sides of us, and pretty much spent the day being vigilant and hoping the wind didn’t change,” said Hesh.
When they thought the winds were changing, they packed up quickly and evacuated.
It should be noted that even if a farm does not burn down, its crop can still be lost due to smoke damage once the fires stray too close to the delicate plants.
Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, told the San Francisco Chronicle on Monday evening that more than two dozen growers in their association had already lost their entire farms, due to the fires. The financial cost of such damage is potentially millions of dollars.
While it has not directly affected, the parent company of Absolute Xtracts and Care By Design, CannaCraft, has been rallying its workers based in Santa Rosa — who were lucky enough to not be impacted by the fire — to see where they can help. While some staff has lost homes, no one at CannaCraft lost their lives.
“CannaCraft is operational today and employees that were not impacted are here doing what we can to be of assistance,” said CannaCraft VP of Marketing Kial Long by email. “We’ll be mobilizing some teams to volunteer at local shelters soon. But it is just devastating, our community has been turned upside down by this.”
Further north, in the heart of Mendocino County, the blaze has killed at least three people, CalFire reported. The 20,000 acre Redwood Complex fire — the combination of the Potter Valley and Redwood Valley fires — currently has some of the best cannabis cultivators in the world on the run.
“We got out, but had to go back and put some sprinklers on the roof,” said Brandon of 3rd Generation Family Farms over the phone, as he returned to the area for the second time to check up on his farm.
Brandon counted off the fire trucks to us as he drove, saying, “Everybody seems to be going south.”
The Atlas and Tubbs Fires were still uncontained as of Tuesday morning. CalFire told reporters that the containment percentage should begin to rise later this afternoon.
In a press conference, a FEMA spokesperson reported this afternoon that the National Guard will be using a Reaper drone to begin mapping the fires, and allow FEMA to access the damage that has already been done.
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