Summer sticking around in Auburn, Placer County

Good for mandarin growers, not so for firefighters
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The final vestiges of the warmth of summer are lingering well into the fall, giving hope to mandarin growers and headaches to firefighters.

At Abel’s Garden House on Bald Hill Road in rural Auburn, Bonnie Abel is checking the sweetness of her mandarin crop on a daily basis. The satsumas turned from green to orange earlier than usual – in October rather than early November – and are slowly gaining the sugar needed before they are ready for sale.

“They’re not sour,” Abel said. “Just lightly tart – on the cusp of wonderfulness.”

Abel, whose family-run orchard sits at about 1,300 feet, said that lower-lying mandarin growers in the foothills are already boasting of early sweetness and sale-ready crops ahead of the normal harvest cycle starting in late November.

Abel’s Garden House will be just a little behind them, she predicted Tuesday.

“We’re hoping by the end of the week to be there,” Abel said.

Auburn’s Joanne Neft, founder of the 20th annual Mandarin Festival, used Tuesday’s meeting of the Placer County Board of Supervisors to announce that mandarin growers were reporting they were getting their fruit in early this season. The board proclaimed Nov. 22 as the official start of the mandarin growing season. It’s also the first day of the Mandarin Festival in Auburn.

“The harvest is one month early and signs are that it’s going to be abundant,” Neft said.

While mandarin growers are celebrating warm days and mild nights as a definite plus for this season’s harvest, Cal Fire Unit Chief Brad Harris was telling supervisors Tuesday that the fire danger has also been prolonged by the lack of rain so late into the autumn.

Harris, who also serves as the county’s fire warden, said an outdoor burning ban was lifted this month in anticipation of a heavy rainfall. But that expected rain did not fall. The multi-county unit downsized for the winter season from 21 to 10 engines and then found itself dealing with multiple escaped, controlled burns as the dry weather continued, he said.

“We immediately shut down burning again,” Harris said. “It’s going to be a little bit, yet. No burning will be allowed until we see significant rain.”

Harris said, however, that no rain is projected in long-term forecasts within 10 or more days.

“The fire danger is still high,” he added. “It’s unheard of for this time of year. It’s usually so moist that we’re not having fires.”