Powerful wildfires fanned by strong winds are ravaging parts of Northern California, having killed at least 11 people, destroying some 1,500 structures, thousands of trees and over 120,000 acres of land. Over 30,000 people in the paths of the fast-moving infernos have fled their homes, according to the California Department of Forestry. And California marijuana growers north of San Francisco faced mandatory evacuation orders and potentially tens of millions of dollars in crop damage and loss of the state’s first legal cannabis harvest.
Local reports confirm that up to 9,000 cannabis grows in Sonoma County have been affected.
Santa Rosa is among the cities hardest hit by the firestorms.
Entire city blocks have been turned into a burned-out wasteland in this wine-producing town. Residents grabbed what they could and fled, reported the Los Angeles Times.
There are more than two-dozen emergency shelters in Sonoma County alone, and they are filling up.
Counties within northern California’s Emerald Triangle are also threatened by the wildfires.
How The Wildfires Started
The cause of the fires is still under investigation, but a weather phenomenon known as the “Diablo winds” is partly responsible for the widespread devastation.
The California Growers Association (CGA) reports that one-third of its leaders were evacuating by themselves, or helping neighbors escape the flames, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
“We’re expecting some pretty significant property damage,” said CGA executive director Hezekiah Allen. “As damage numbers emerge, it’s going to be pretty stunning on all fronts, and certainly our membership has been directly impacted.”
Representatives from cannabis farms, manufacturers and dispensaries told the Chronicle they were afraid for their businesses, many of which were closed.
How The Wildfires May Affect Legal Cannabis
On various weed cultivation websites, per the East Bay Express, cannabis farmers said they’re worried their crops will be tainted by the smell of smoke, which consumers will readily be able to detect.
California grows an estimated 13 million pounds of pot annually, shipping four of every five pounds to other states.
Harvested plants exposed to smoke are more vulnerable to disease that can result in mold, mildew and fungus, creating potential health risks, especially for medical cannabis users.
The potential fire damage comes at a time when California’s Office of Cannabis Control is establishing tough new regulations for the new recreational and MMJ markets. All cannabis sold under the new legal framework will have to be tested for wholesomeness.
The question now looming over the new market is how much of the Northern California’s outdoor harvest will make it past the rigorous testing standards.
While the scope of the wildfires is still being calculated, cannabis farmers are assessing the toll on this year’s entire outdoor harvest. And the outlook is grim.