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California's cannabis harvest season has turned disastrous

October 10, 2017
Noah Berger
Flames surround a marijuana plant as a wildfire burns near Oroville, Calif., on Saturday, July 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
SOURCE: Noah Berger

What was thought to be California's largest cannabis harvest ever culminated in disaster this week as multiple ongoing wildfires ravaged the cultivation heartlands of Mendocino and Sonoma County.

The California Growers Association released its first wave of numbers on how many cannabis cultivators had been wiped out by wildfires in the middle of the state’s billion-dollar cannabis harvest. Executive Director Hezekiah Allen said Tuesday the fires in Sonoma and Mendocino counties have caused “the worst year on record for California’s growers.”

More than two dozen CGA members had lost their entire farms in the blazes burning near Santa Rosa, Redwood Valley and beyond. “This is going to leave a deep scar,” Allen said.

“I had one conversation today where the family was in tears, saying, ‘We don’t know how we're going to make it to January, let alone next planting season,’” Allen said.

Anywhere from 3,000 to 9,000 cannabis gardens are thought to exist in Sonoma County the site of the Tubbs Fire. The Redwood Complex fire is rampaging through Mendocino County hillsides dotted with hundreds of mom and pop, craft cannabis growers.

“We have a lot of people who have lost their farms in the last 36 hours, and their homes,” said Tawnie Logan, chair of the Sonoma County Growers Alliance.

Logan knows of a $2 million crop that burnt to the ground Sunday night. Cannabis farmers cannot get crop or fire insurance, nor are eligible for federal disaster relief funds.

“There’s no way for them to recover the millions in anticipated revenue they just lost,” she said. “It's gone. It's ashes.”

Iconic California grower Subcool reportedly lost his home, belongings, and prized mother plants — just one of the many leading figures affected by the blazes.

North of Sonoma County, the Redwood Complex Fire has burned 21,000 acres and firefighters had zero percent containment Tuesday morning. Two more were confirmed dead earlier today in the heart of Mendocino County, bringing the death toll to three.

Further loss of lives, homes, and livelihoods are expected, and residents are tense because the situation can change at any time, said Amanda Reiman, a Redwood Valley resident who is the outreach coordinator for cannabis company Flow Kana.

For complete coverage of the worst wildfires in Northern California history, click on SFChronicle.com.