“We wake up at 5:30 in the morning and need to be over there by 6 a.m. and it’s terribly cold,” said Brenda Zamora, a Desert Mirage High School student who is spending her winter vacation working in the frigid fields of Thermal.
Zamora says the greatest challenge is just trying to stay warm.
“I guess all the other field workers are used to it, but me I wear my pants, sweats on top, double sweaters, my hoodie, a beanie,” Zamora said.
Thermal set a new record low of 21 degrees New Year’s morning. As the mercury drops, many of the crops Zamora works with have already succumbed to the freeze.
“The bell peppers and the strawberries, those too, the day before New Year’s we had to throw everything away because nothing was of good use,” Zamora said.
It’s easy to see the damage at the bell pepper fields near Zamora’s home in Mecca. The vines are wilted and the peppers themselves have shriveled in the cold.
“Most of the eastern valley is below sea level,” points out Cal Fire Battalion Chief Daniel Talbot. “Cool air sinks, and that cool still air can severely damage crops.”
In order to save their crops, some farmers set controlled fires to hay bales near the fields, warming the air around the fruits and vegetables. The burns are regulated by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
“Obviously frost is a major concern and farmers want to protect their investment,” Talbot said.
An investment that provides jobs for Zamora and her entire family. But as the crops perish, their hours are also being frozen.
“It’s really cold and everything’s dying so we don’t really get that much work. We work for around four to five hours a day,” Zamora said.