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Cold still threatens crops in West but it’s easing

FRESNO, Calif. — The freeze gripping the West appeared on the verge of easing Tuesday, but farmers who spent millions to protect crops were still assessing damage, some produce prices climbed, and businesses and residents dealt with burst pipes.

The National Weather Service predicted another frosty night, but said temperatures would begin to warm as high pressure moved east.

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For a fifth night Monday, temperatures in the San Joaquin Valley, California’s agricultural heart, dipped below freezing, though they were a few degrees warmer than previous nights, said Paul Story of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, an association of citrus growers.

Growers, who have about $1.5 billion worth of citrus fruit on the trees, used wind machines to keep warmer air closer to the ground and irrigation to raise temperatures.

Citrus growers statewide spent more than $23 million over five nights to save their crops, the group estimated.

But in some areas, that was not enough.

‘‘We definitely had some damage, but it’s hard to tell how much,’’ Story said, adding that the fruit’s maturity and high sugar content helped protect much of the crop.

Crop damage estimates were not yet available, growers said, because for some varieties damage is not visible for days or weeks. Initial reports indicated up to 6 percent of the state’s orange crop was damaged and up to 9 percent of the mandarin crop, Story said.

Despite damage, Story said, plenty of good citrus is left on trees. ‘‘The fact is, we have a lot of good-quality fruit to sell,’’ Story said.

Wind machines and irrigation would run in groves for at least two more nights, he said, though sleepless farmers were looking forward to warmer weather.

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