Massive fire destroys Columbia Gorge fruit warehouse, millions o - KPTV - FOX 12

Massive fire destroys Columbia Gorge fruit warehouse, millions of dollars in pears

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Underwood Fruit and Packing Warehouse fire in Bingen, Washington. (KPTV/Air 12) Underwood Fruit and Packing Warehouse fire in Bingen, Washington. (KPTV/Air 12)
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BINGEN, WA (KPTV) -

A massive fire destroyed a fruit-packing warehouse and at least $3 million worth of fruit early Wednesday morning in Bingen, Washington.

The first 911 calls came in around 5:45 a.m. and the fire at Underwood Fruit and Packing Company continued to burn well past noon, although the largest flames died down before then.

The large smoke column and shooting flames were easily spotted from Hood River across the Columbia River.

On the edge of the property, chunks of black ash and roofing material rained down as crews worked to douse the fire, some pieces of debris were more than a foot long.

A public information officer assigned to the fire told FOX 12 nobody was injured at the Underwood Fruit and Packing Warehouse, but the couple of dozen agencies responding to the fire ended up using a “let it burn” strategy and focused efforts on containing the fire to the one building.

A spokesman for the fruit company, Don Gibson, told FOX 12 that employee shifts don’t begin until 7 a.m., so no workers were in the building when the fire broke out.

Gibson said the fire destroyed the facility’s main packing building, as well as more than 100,000 boxes of fruit, most of them pears. Gibson said each fruit box is worth about $30.

“We will rebuild,” said Gibson, adding the company wants to reassure its 270 employees that they are still open for business.

“We are celebrating our 100-year anniversary,” Gibson said about the company. “Our apple (packing) line is still OK.”

The cause of the fire is under investigation, and Gibson said he didn’t have any idea what might have sparked it.

Fire officials said there were originally concerns about quantities of anhydrous ammonia, a toxic chemical used by the company for refrigeration, being released in the fire, but crews said the chemicals were contained and not a threat.

 Across the street, employees were forced to watch the fire burn when they should’ve been on the clock.

“I’ve been working here for seven years and it’s hard,” Jose Ortiz said, adding that he and his wife both work at the warehouse. “We are just thinking about what are we going to do?”

Klickitat County Fire District spokesman Eric Bosler said crews were hampered by issues with fire hydrants and had to switch to trucking in water.

Fire agencies from as far away as Glenwood and The Dalles assisted in the efforts.

The fire knocked out power to areas of Bingen and White Salmon.

The White Salmon School District announced all student recesses and outdoor activities, like sports, would be held inside Wednesday out of concern for air quality.

Bosler said he expects fire crews will continue to mop up and monitor the fire into Wednesday night. 

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