California Marijuana Farmers Prepare for Wildfire Season
As wildfire season approaches, California marijuana farmers are taking measures to protect their crops. Farmers have been preparing for the upcoming fire season since March and will be able to use a new law that allows them to bring water onto their plots of land. This is a big change from last year when they had no access to water during the fires.
In 2020, wildfires destroyed over 1 million acres of land, most of it cannabis farms in Northern California. Hopefully, this year will be different with additional defenses in place.
However, some believe the conditions are even worse this year, which means growers must prepare even further in advance.
Robert Steffano, an owner at Humboldt County-based Villa Paradiso Farms, believes preparation is key. He recently checked 30 fire extinguishers he has installed throughout the farm.
“The key to survival out here is immediate suppression,” said Steffano, a longtime volunteer fireman and cannabis grower who knows the terrain better than most.
“If there’s smoke, you’re on it.”
Steffano has one tool he plans to use to combat the fires. It’s The Wookie, a military 6×6 cargo truck that he installed a 1,000-gallon water tank, 100-foot fire hose, and industry-grade pump on. This vehicle is ready for the notorious wildfires.
30% of Cali’s freshwater comes from the Sierra Nevada mountain range snowpack. However, we’ve seen just 59 percent of its annual average as of April 1, which is the end of the region’s rain and snow season.
As the second significant water shortage over the last two years, the U.S. Drought Monitor has categorized much of the Northern Cali region as in a severe or extreme drought.
“Everything is accelerated because of the dryness,” Steffano said. “There’s no rain.”
The Central Coast is suffering, too. Lowell Farms has a 225,000-square-foot greenhouse located in Monterey County. Even though it’s miles from woodlands, the farm has placed preventative measures in place to ensure wildfire air quality and heat issues can be mitigated quickly.
“We are automating our greenhouses with emergency sequences that can respond in a moment’s notice to these adverse conditions,” Lowell Board Chair George Allen said.
Fortunately, Cali’s Emerald Triangle is a tight-knit community. The region formed the Palo Verde Volunteer Fire Department in 1983, and Steffano, among others, has joined up to fight the fires.
“It was really down-home,” said Steffano about his time serving as an emergency medical technician for 15 years and eventually as fire chief.
The fleet has evolved over the years. The Palo Verde Fire Department now has reliable trucks, equipment, and around 30 volunteers ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Volunteers have done basic wildland training, as well as an essential wilderness curriculum to learn how to arrange hose lays, create firebreaks, deploy shelters, scratch scrum, and other firefighting and prevention strategies.
“Everyone looks out after everyone else,” Steffano said. “Wildfires have always been a present danger for us out here.”
The last blaze went on for almost three months. It killed a firefighter and annihilated over 930 structures as it charred over 1 million acres.
Looking at the economic losses and damages the cannabis industry suffered from the wildfires has been challenging in Cali. Little data exists and the losses are mostly anecdotal.
However, the California Growers Association (CGA) attempted to calculate the inventory fire damage from 2016 and recorded losses exceeding $100 million.
“That’s what we were able to document,” said Hezekiah Allen, a former executive director of the CGA who now advises cannabis companies.
“We gave up the next couple of years. It was just too hard.”
Fortunately, everyone is taking the situation seriously as wildfire season approaches. For now, the most we can do is hope for the best for our cannabis farming friends in the north.