Blue Bird Inc. plans to start rebuilding its 35,000-square-foot fruit storage facility as soon as crews finish clearing the debris from the fire that destroyed it, Ron Gonsalves, company president, said.
Just like the 1982 building Blue Bird lost to a March 3 fire, the new controlled-atmosphere storage facility will have 12 rooms and a capacity for 16,500 bins at the grower cooperative’s Peshastin, Washington, headquarters, Gonsalves said.
However, Blue Bird will construct the new facility using modern building techniques that should make it less susceptible to fires, Gonsalves said. Using the same construction methods, the company completed a 20,000-bin CA building, also in Peshastin, in the summer of 2018.
The company plans to have the new structure operational by Sept. 1, in time for the 2019 pear crop.
The March fire also destroyed 10 million pounds of packed d’Anjou pears scheduled for late-season marketing, worth between $8 million and $9 million, Gonsalves said. Growers will be reimbursed for those losses from insurance coverage. Some apples in an adjacent building also were lost due to smoke damage.
In mid-March, insurance and company officials were still determining the value of the destroyed building and a cost for the replacement. “We just really haven’t put any numbers on it yet,” he said.
A cause remained undetermined, Gonsalves said.
The building was a storage facility only and contained no packing equipment. It housed CA storage for both bins and packed boxes of conventionally grown pears.
The fire was the second for Blue Bird in four years. A 2015 wildfire destroyed a cherry packing facility in nearby Wenatchee. The company rebuilt and began packing cherries again within 11 months.
Other Washington fruit shipping companies have lost buildings to fires in recent years, including Mt. Adams Fruit Co. in Bingen, Stemilt Growers of Wenatchee and Chelan Fruit in Chelan.
Gonsalves advised those in the industry to keep up-to-date on insurance coverage and aware of the immediate surroundings of all buildings.
“These kind of fires can happen at any time to anybody,” Gonsalves said. •
—by Ross Courtney