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Fighting the freeze at Heller Orchards

The farm in Wapwallopen used everything from campfires to helicopters to work and keep the fruit trees warm during the overnight dip in temperature.

WAPWALLOPEN, Pa. — Some fruit farmers in our area didn't get much sleep overnight and spent much of the morning fighting freezing temperatures.

There's no rest for the Heller family at Heller Orchards on a morning like this, with temperatures below freezing.

This year's apple and peach crops on the farm in Wapwallopen depend on it.

"It's dangerous; let's put it that way," said Greg Heller. 'We have a great crop of fruit here, and we want to do our best if we could save it."

Wind machines worked to protect ten of the 100 acres of fruit trees, moving the warmer air down to new crops.

"They will automatically kick on at 32 degrees and protect that block of fruit," Andrea Heller explained.

Among the peach trees, the Hellers and their workers built more than 100 campfires to create warmth for the newly formed doughnut peaches.

"Once you start trying to save your crop, you don't stop," Andrea said. "You keep going, and you do everything you can. It's not, 'It is what it is.' It's you need to do everything you possibly can."

Even after the sun came up, the work continued.

In addition to the bonfires and the wind machines, a helicopter flew over the orchard all morning to try and bring that warmer air down to save the crops.

The noise and the smoke set a scene similar to a warzone along rows of fruit trees, but it's necessary because a couple of hours of temperatures below 30 degrees on these crops could be devastating. The owners say it got down to 28.

"That's all it takes to ruin so much work throughout the year," said Kelsey Heller. "On a morning like this, I am extremely, very emotional and raw because my dad and my family put so much work into this, and you don't want to see it go down the drain, just from one day, one single day."

By 7 a.m., what's done is done, and the Hellers hope for the best.

"It's too early to tell," Greg said. "We won't know. It might be days till we could see if there's any scarring or frost rings or anything like that on this fruit."

The effort here didn't just work to save the crop, but its quality, too.
"I'm optimistic. I think we're going to be OK," Greg added. "We kept the frost off of these trees.

The Hellers will know for sure in about three days.

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