(Oct. 22) As nearly a quarter of a million people evacuated northern San Diego County to escape wildfires Oct. 22, up to 35,000 acres of avocado orchards were threatened with destruction.

Scores of homes had been destroyed and highways were clogged as people rushed to escape, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Raging Santa Ana winds that swept through the area Oct. 21-22 knocked an estimated 35 million pounds — 10% of the state’s production — of avocados off trees, said Guy Witney, director of industry affairs for the California Avocado Commission, Irvine.

“Between the winds and the fires, that’s a reasonable estimate,” Witney said. “I’m guessing because there is such chaos right now. Our main concern is for our farm families, and we have 6,500 families who grow avocados, and the bulk of them are in north San Diego County.”

He said he talked to growers north of Escondido, Calif., and they reported significant fire damage to their orchards.

“While they were trying to get out, they could see what was happening,” he said. “It might be a week before we can make a good assessment of the damage.”

He said wind gusts were blowing dry leaves across orchards and that eventually, with enough time and wind, the trees would go up in flames.

“I’m praying we haven’t lost major acres in that area,” Witney said.

Fires are out of control in Fallbrook, Rainbow and Escondido Valley Center, Calif., the biggest growing areas for avocados, he said. The worst of the fires are in northern San Diego County and southwest Riverside County. He said another fire is out of control on the Irvine Ranch in Orange County.

“That was an arson fire apparently started in three different places from one end to the other of the Irvine Ranch,” Witney said. “There’s no access and (there are) mandatory evacuations.”

He said it is difficult to determine the size of each fire.

“The Fallbrook fire started very small a couple hours ago, and it’s huge now,” Witney said. “I’m getting text messages and calls from growers who are evacuating as we speak.”

He said firefighters are concentrating on saving towns and homes. He said he heard there were more fires north of Los Angeles in the Ojai, Calif., area.

“I just got a call from Ed McFadden, a large grower who’s between Fillmore and Ojai, and he said there is a big wildfire about five miles away,” he said. “Very few people are answering their phones now. We’ve been very concerned about them.”

Witney said he returned to his home in Laguna Beach, Calif., to retrieve possessions because if the Irvine Ranch fire were to jump Interstate 5, there is nothing but wilderness between it and Laguna Beach.

Schools were closed and hospitals evacuated as fires burned more than 100,000 acres, according to the Los Angeles Times article.