How do wildfires affect farmers?

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The Whittier Fire burning above Santa Barbara and Goleta hasn’t spread down the south slope of the Santa Ynez Mountain Range toward more urban areas. But mandatory evacuations, road closures and ash have taken a toll on those who depend on the land in that area.

We checked in with a farmer and a beekeeper to find out how the Whittier Fire is impacting their work.

Ebby’s Organic Farm in Goleta

Miguel and Lorena Iniguez were ordered to evacuate from their home and farm on Friday because of the Whittier Fire. (Photo: Kathryn Barnes/KCRW)

Miguel and Lorena Iniguez’s farm sits on Winchester Canyon Farm in Goleta. They were ordered to evacuate from their farm (and home) on Friday, after being under an evacuation warning for a week.

The view from Ebby’s Organic Farm last Saturday night. (Photo: Lorena Iniguez)

“It’s stressful. We’re trying to do our best,” said Lorena Iniguez. “We have to deal with personal things and also the farm.”

Their booth at Saturday’s Santa Barbara Farmers Market was noticeably barren. They didn’t have time to harvest crops like leafy greens before they had to leave.

The view from Ebby’s Organic Farm the day the fire began. (Photo: Lorena Iniguez)

“When the sheriff arrived at the farm, he said we had an hour to leave,” said Iniguez. “My husband had to come back to the house and help me pack. Later on, we had to go back to the farm and move the tractors and vehicles to a safer place. My lettuce and greens are covered in ash, so it’s more difficult to harvest and clean them. We didn’t have time.”

She’s worried that if the heat of the fire gets too close, or they can’t return to their farm to care for sensitive crops like tomatoes, they’ll lose them.

“It’s stressful for farmers because you’re dealing with reducing your sales, reducing your incomes and losing product.” said Iniguez.

Dylan’s Wylde Honey

Beekeeper Dylan Wylde keeps his bees in the mountains off San Marcos Pass, near East Camino Cielo and Paradise Road. The Whittier Fire hasn’t burned his hives, but has cut into some of his forage areas. (Photo: Jordan BenShea)

The good thing about bees is unlike land crops, you can move them from place to place. The bad thing: bees often forage in the back country, where wildfires are common and can spread so quickly beekeepers often can’t get in to evacuate their bees in time.

Dylan Wylde keeps his bees in the mountains off San Marcos Pass, near East Camino Cielo and Paradise Road.

“This fire is close, but it looks like it’s going to the south instead of the east,” said Wylde. “At this point I haven’t moved any bees out. I’m not even certain I can get in to certain areas because of road blockages.”

Even if the fire stays away from his bees, chemicals from the flame retardant being dropped over the area could settle on flowering plants his bees feed on. He’s not sure how that would impact the honey or the bees’ health.

“I don’t know what that stuff is,” he said. “I imagine it’s toxic.”

Cover photo by Glenn Beltz

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