After helicopters spray the Northeast San Fernando Valley with insecticide Monday night to combat a Medfly infestation, Dan Hedrick Chevrolet-Geo will throw up a defense of its own: six guys wearing coveralls and wielding sponges and soap.
At 6:30 a.m. Tuesday the car dealer's entire carwashing crew will be on the lot scrubbing the sticky chemical off 150 new cars and trucks.
"If we could keep them inside, we probably would," said Donald Hedrick, general manager of the dealership in downtown San Fernando. "But we can't, so we're going to wash them as soon as we can and hope we don't get any damage."
State agriculture officials say automobile paint and fish in outdoor ponds should be protected from the insecticide malathion, which is to be sprayed in very low concentrations from helicopters starting at 9 p.m. Monday over a 17-square-mile area that includes San Fernando, Sylmar and parts of Mission Hills, Granada Hills and Pacoima.
Flyers that answer questions about the Mediterranean fruit fly infestation and explain the minimal harmful effects of the insecticide were distributed by California Conservation Corps crews on Friday to 150,000 houses and businesses in the area. The flyers said the corn syrup-based bait in which the malathion is mixed can cause damage to automobile finishes if not washed off.
"We're a little alarmed about it," Hedrick said. He said factory warranties will not cover any damage that might be done to the cars and the dealership could suffer a financial loss.
Three mature Medflies, which lay their eggs in more than 260 varieties of fruits and vegetables, have been found since Oct. 25 within a few blocks of each other in Sylmar. That was enough to classify the area as infested and to trigger Monday's spraying.
County workers have discovered 126 Medflies in various portions of Los Angeles County this year, and so far have sprayed 63 square miles in an effort to fight the infestation.
Experts say malathion is one of the least hazardous insecticides used today and does not pose any danger to children, pregnant women, the elderly or any other groups. The chemical is used routinely on pets as a flea treatment.
Some residents said they planned to leave the area for the day to avoid the spraying. And more than 100 area residents were concerned enough to call an information number at the San Fernando Department of Parks and Recreation.
"They just wanted to be sure whether they were in or out of the area, and to confirm the time of the spraying, and wondering whether they should bring their animals in and when they could let them out," said Dave Watt, director of the city's parks department.
After the spraying, which could be delayed if strong Santa Ana winds are blowing, the Cooperative Medfly Project will quarantine the area.
Two project representatives contacted food retailers and plant nurseries in the area Friday to warn them that their products could be infested. Marko Shadovich of the California Department of Food and Agriculture urged market owners to destroy unprotected fruits, to refuse to buy local back yard fruit and vegetables and to keep all produce refrigerated or in closed containers.
"People generally have a cooperative response to this," Shadovich said.
Tony Lewis, whose family-owned El Rancho Plaza Market was one of the food retailers contacted by Shadovich on Friday, cooperated by agreeing to cover a plastic container of lemons and limes that he sells and by programming an electric sign above his cash register to announce Monday's spraying.
"Something like this gets people talking about it," Lewis said, referring to the sign.
"It's like someone around here hit the Lotto. It kind of puts us on the map."