(Nov. 10) You have to hand it to Californians. Time after time after time, they meet with potential disaster, whether through the rumblings, stumblings and bumblings of politicians or through the caprices of nature, and they seem to come out of it as strong or stronger than ever.

Let’s face it: California certainly has been among the most blessed of states, but it also has to be among the most cursed.

California’s produce industry has had to deal with more than its share of problems in recent times — high workers’ comp rates, binding arbitration in labor disputes, high energy prices, high vehicle taxes, etc.

Now, a month after voters tossed Gov. Gray Davis out in a recall vote that aptly demonstrated for the world the dire straits in which the state has been mired, California found itself dealing with the fallout from another calamity.

Seven major fires, by some measures the most devastating in California history, were contained by early November in Ventura, San Bernardino and San Diego counties.

Nearly 13,000 firefighters and support personnel were involved in fighting what Davis himself was calling the worst firestorm in the history of the state.

California was spending an estimated $9 million a day fighting the wildfires. The total cost of fighting the blazes could reach $200 million, while the blazes take a $2 billion toll on the California economy, state officials said.

And this is a state that already was reporting budget deficits approaching $40 billion, by conservative estimates.

The produce industry was still trying to come to some sort of consensus on costs to their business. Whatever the dollar amount, it seemed doubtless that everyone would end up paying some sort of price for this 270,000-acre disaster.

And the payment likely will be an extended one in what has been a costly fire season. By state estimates, more than 900,000 acres had burned in 2003, one-third in the most recent firestorm in Southern California. The previous record was in 1987, when 873,000 acres burned.

It isn’t just Californians who must endure. This latest disaster affects the whole country. Federal money will come pouring into the state, as it cleans up the mess, in the form of grants, loans and disaster-relief personnel.

Transportation arteries — over which precious and vulnerable shipments of fruits and vegetables travel — will have to be cleared, once passage has been deemed safe. What’s good or bad for California spins out across the rest of the country.
California, after all, feeds much of the rest of the country, with its abundance of commodities, many of which are grown year-round.

Fortunately, reports of immediate damage to produce areas appeared to be minimal, said Celine Garcia, a spokeswoman for the Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers.

An avocado grower in San Diego County said that he lost one 100-acre grove, Garcia said, but even he was expressing a relative sense of relief.

There was another report from Simi Valley that an additional 600-700 acres of avocados were lost, Garcia said, adding that there were few, if any, reports of damage in the Riverside area.
So, once again, California’s produce industry emerges from the jaws of calamity relatively unscathed.

It’s a tribute to the guile, the fortitude and, perhaps, the determination of the region that the people there continue to endure, in spite of the disasters — man-made or otherwise — that continue to come their way.

There’s a toughness about California that is to be admired and, really, copied, where possible.