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Finley Point cherry cooperative acts quickly to save fruit as wildfire halts harvest

Cherry Tree
Posted at 5:39 PM, Aug 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-03 19:39:12-04

FINLEY POINT — The Boulder 2700 fire near Finley point disrupted the lives of hundreds of Lake County residents Sunday morning when the wildfire raged out of control causing immediate evacuations.

The fire also caused major disruption to the Flathead Lake cherry business as some growers had to shut down picking immediately and halt operations during the middle of harvest.

“We were probably halfway through our harvest before the fire happened and it disrupted everything of course because our warehouse is on Finley Point,” Monson Fruit Field Representative Brian Campbell tells MTN News.

Two weeks ago, cherry harvest began for 80 Flathead Lake orchards, roughly 500 acres of cherries part of the cherry grower cooperative on Finley Point.

Early Sunday morning, everything came to halt as the Boulder 2700 fire ravished out of control.

“There was a mandatory evacuation of Finley Point, so we can’t use the warehouse, which is where we need to hydro-cool our cherries and we need the loading dock there to load semi-trucks,” said Campbell.

He said his team worked closely Sunday morning with the Finley Point Yellow Bay Fire Department and Lake County Sheriff's office to safely bring two semi-trucks to the plant Sunday saving thousands of pounds of cherries.

“We had 160 bins of fruit in there that would have just rotted, and that’s like over 50,000 pounds of fruit, so luckily they let us bring in two semi’s that loaded up and were off to Washington,” added Campbell.

He said his team adjusted on the fly sending a semi-truck directly to an orchard in Yellow Bay so the grower could send their cherries straight to Washington before the fruit was spoiled.

“Yeah, it’s not the ideal situation because we can’t hydro-cool the fruit, but it’s the alternative we can come up with to get the fruit in,” said Campbell.

Campbell has lived on Finley Point for more than 50 years and grew up working on Flathead Lake orchards. He admits it was hard to think about the cherry operation when he received the call to evacuate Sunday morning.

“You’re trying to go around your house with a headlamp trying to figure out which photo albums to throw in your car, was no fun, you always think it could happen to somebody else but not you, so the last thing on my mind for the last day here has been cherries, I’ve been thinking about whether or not my house is going to survive, now I’m starting to think about cherries a little bit again with the help of the weather,” said Campbell.

Campbell said one thing out of the ordinary that all cherry farmers can agree on right now, is bring on as much rain as possible.

“Cherry farmer this time of year is hoping it doesn’t rain but I think no matter how much cherries you have hanging on your tree, we’re all hoping for rain,” said Campbell.

The cherry plant on Finley Point will be back open in full operation starting Wednesday with law enforcement making a special exception as they follow strict safety guidelines.

Cherry farmers are hoping for a stellar crop from their later Sweetheart and Kootenai varieties as picking should begin on those two this weekend.