Although the massive Station fire north of Los Angeles continues to grow, the Yucaipa and Oak Glen fires are under control, which is very welcome news for residents--and for area apple lovers. Oak Glen is home to many Southern California apple farms, a constellation of U-pick farms and ranches, gift shops and businesses, that together form something of an apple theme park. Many of the farms are owned by the Riley family, who originally brought the U-pick idea to Oak Glen. This time of year, even the farms that are open year-round are gearing up for the official start of their apple season, which kicks off Labor Day weekend.
As of today, the Oak Glen fire, which has burned just over 1,000 acres, is 75% contained. The Pendleton fire, which broke out at the nearby town of Yucaipa, has burned just under 900 acres, and was 70% contained as of this afternoon. Evacuation orders have been lifted, and residents and business owners are hoping that the area will be open for apple-hunting visitors by the weekend.
"We're so very grateful to the fire department," said Shirley Hudson, whose family owns and operates Snow-Line Orchard in Oak Glen, by phone this afternoon. "It's not over yet, but we're hoping to be open this Saturday." Hudson says rain is forecast ("I can feel it in the air") and that despite the helicopters flying overhead and the fire trucks still evident, "you'd never even guess there's a fire." Snow-Line presses cider and sells some of the 34 varieties of apples that the Hudson family grows in nearby Cherry Valley. Starting this weekend, they will make and sell cider doughnuts. Hudson says that her biggest concern, however, wasn't the orchard but the chestnut tree on the property: according to Hudson, it's the oldest chestnut tree in California, at 109 years old.
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Up the road at Riley's at Los Rios Rancho, Anna Fuentes says that they're busy getting ready for the weekend's activities too. Los Rios Rancho is open year-round, but also starts their season on Saturday. Gravensteins and other varieties will be on sale in the store, and Macintosh will be available in the orchard for picking.
Snow-Line Orchard: 39400 Oak Glen Road, Oak Glen; (909) 797-3415.
Riley's Apple Farm: 12201 S. Oak Glen Road, Oak Glen; (909) 797-4061.