California poppies: City declares public safety crisis after 'super bloom apocalypse'

Andrew Buncombe

Officials in the California city of Lake Elisnore have previously had large crowds come and see the wildflowers that burst into a vibrant blaze of gorgeous colour as spring gets underway. It happens when it rains hard.

But this spring, the poppies have been so abundant and so strikingly coloured – orange peel, marigold and burned copper – that the number of people coming to walk among them has simply been too many.

As a result, the city was forced to say “no” to visitors, after what some officials termed a “super bloom apocalypse”.

“The city has expended all available resources to address the #SuperBloom,” they wrote on the the city’s Instagram page. “We have brought in all available staff, as many outside traffic controllers that we could, more shuttles, and our small city can not sustain crowds of this magnitude – our city is not made for Disneyland-size crowds.”

It urged residents: “Please, we need your help and understanding. This is beyond our control. So please stay out of this area and stay off local roads if possible.”

Local media said as many as 50,000 people visited the poppy fields over the weekend – a figure that was twice that of the weekend before. Residents have complained about traffic jams, as visitors have arrived as early as 5.30am to visit the wildflowers, whose burst of growth was triggered by recent record-breaking rainfall. One person was reportedly hurt in a traffic accident.

For the last few weeks, crowds have swarmed onto the fields, many ignoring instructions that they stay on the designated path. Some have even picked the flowers to take home.

Mayor Steve Manos told The Independent he had never known a bloom as spectacular as the one this year. “It only happens when it rains hard,” he said. “The last one was 2017, and before that it was 2010.”

Darian Williams, 24, of Anaheim, made a spontaneous hour-and-a-half drive with her parents. She grew up in southern California but told the Palm Springs Sun she did not remember ever witnessing a super bloom that came close to this.

“People were pulled over on the side of the road to see the flowers as we drove here,” she said. “It was amazing to see the number of flowers grow as we got closer.”

Mr Manos, mayor of the city located 70 miles to the south east of Los Angeles, posted videos of himself helping direct traffic on Facebook, to try and give an insight into how bad the situation was.

On Monday morning, amid some criticism over the shutdown, the city said access to Walker Canyon had been reopened, though parking was extremely limited.

Mr Manos appeared in another brief video, standing in front of people walking through the footpaths amid the flowers.

“As you can see, there are a number of people behind me here to experience the bloom. But we are full. If you are able to come back later, I would really appreciate it.”

He said he was asking people not to touch the flowers, and if they do visit, to bring with them “extra patience”.

He added: “Don’t pick the flowers. They’re very sensitive.”