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Seth’s Cut: Where there’s smoke

October 12, 2020 -  By
Photo: Seth Jones

Seth Jones

As if there haven’t been enough curveballs thrown our way in 2020, last month, wildfires sprang up in the West, burning millions of acres, destroying thousands of buildings and taking the lives of numerous people.

“It’s incredibly devastating … 11,000 homes have been burned in the state of Oregon,” Bob Grover, president of Pacific Landscape Management, Hillsboro, Ore., told me. “It’s the biggest, most horrific wildfire in Oregon ever.”

What made the firestorm so devastating were the sustained winds of 40, 50 and 60 miles per hour. With winds blowing so strong, some fires spread as fast as 20 to 30 miles per hour. Along with the fire is significant tree damage. And then, smoke throughout the region.

“The air quality index (AQI), I’ve never seen it so high,” Jackie Ishimaru-Gachina, president and CEO of California-based Gachina Landscape Management, reported to the magazine. “It’s been three or four days that we were completely shut down, and depending on the region and microclimates, there have been branches that have closed. Literally, you would go outside, and it was so dark, you had to put your lights on in the house because the sun was so obliterated from all the smoke coming down. I’ve never seen it like that before.”

Having to shut down operations was a common theme we heard. Grover had to email his customer base to announce the company was shutting down for a “smoke day.” As well, Gary Horton, CEO, Landscape Development Inc., Valencia, Calif., said his company was forced to sit out some working hours, as well as full days, based on the air quality.

“Many days have unhealthy air; some days have hazardous air,” Horton said. “Mixed with the fires, we’ve had hot temperatures, 110, even 115. Our crews are working with masks on. You can imagine the misery of being a field worker with a mask, on a hot day, with smoky air.”

Check out our website to watch our interviews with Grover and Horton. Horton shared words of wisdom about how his company is supporting employees through a trying year. Along with the air quality and wildfires, employees are still learning to adapt to COVID-19 and now another new challenge with kids returning to school in some form or fashion.

“Above all, we want our crews to be open and communicative about what they need and how we can best put together schedules or work programs to help them get through and succeed in their own lives until we get to the other side of this,” Horton said. “It’s complex. I think, above all, companies have to be thoughtful, gracious and flexible. Now’s not the time to be rigid hardliners. Not at all.”

I asked Grover if the smoke would clear out soon. “Every day, they say it’s going to be tomorrow,” he said. “It still hasn’t cleared up.”

Finally, I jokingly asked him if he knew what the next curveball thrown our way would be. “I think locusts are coming next,” he laughed. “I have a locust plan in the works.”

Editor’s Note: Abby Hart and Sarah Webb contributed to this column.

Seth Jones

About the Author:

Seth Jones, a graduate of Kansas University’s William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, was voted best columnist in the industry in 2014 and 2018 by the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association. Seth has more than 19 years of experience in the golf and turf industries and has traveled the world seeking great stories. He is editor-in-chief of Landscape Management, Golfdom and Athletic Turf magazines. Jones can be reached at sjones@northcoastmedia.net.

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