(Oct. 31) LOS ANGELES — Between labor strife at three major grocery chains and wildfires that have raged through their region, produce vendors in Southern California have felt the heat of lost business.

Now, with Thanksgiving only a few of weeks away, the same vendors are looking with increasing concern at the fallout from the twin crises.

Schools and business in the San Diego area were closed for at least most of the last week of October, as more than 11,000 firefighters worked around the clock to contain the flames in the Santa Ana wind-driven firestorm that some have called the worst in the state’s history.

Produce dealers in and around the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market said Oct. 30 that it was difficult to assess the damage that the fires would leave on their businesses.

“It’s hard to say,” said Kirby Tanimura, owner of Tanimura Distributing Inc., Los Angeles. “It’s definitely a factor. It’s greatly influencing people’s buying patterns.”

Getting product to its destination, however, had not been a problem, Tanimura added.

“It hasn’t harmed logistics,” he said. “We’ve been able to get product in and out without problems.”

Labor strife, meanwhile, continued to grip the Southern California region.

Clerks from three chains — Kroger Co.’s Ralphs, Safeway Inc.’s Vons and Albertsons Inc. — walked out or were locked out of stores from San Luis Obispo to San Diego Oct. 11 in a contract dispute involving health care and other issues.

A similar walkout affecting three chains entered its fourth week in St. Louis, while union employees at 44 Kroger stores in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky had been on strike since Oct. 13.

In Southern California, the effects from the strike were more palpable than were those from the wildfires, Tanimura said.

“Things have slowed down, obviously, with the chains we deal with,” he said. “I’m guessing business is up with the stores not on strike and the independents, but business is down at the major chains.”

Jesse Martin, president of Value Produce Inc., Los Angeles, said both crises were taking their toll.

“The fires have had an effect,” Martin said. “At this point we don’t know what’s worse, the strikes or the fires. Everything is hurting. The business is bad.”

Business with customers in San Diego — perhaps the hardest-hit urban area in the path of the wildfires — had slowed to a trickle, Martin said.

“A lot of businesses we do business with in San Diego, they’re closed,” Martin said. “They’re hurting. Here (in Los Angeles), we have a little room to work with. Some of our customers in San Diego, their business went to zero because the people they supply are closed. Some of the restaurants are closed.”

But produce vendors noted that, with Thanksgiving rapidly approaching, their own pain likely could increase if the strike drags on.

The three affected retail chains control about 60% of the region’s retail grocery business.

As of Oct. 30, the two sides had held only sporadic talks.