The U.S. federal government is investigating a fire that destroyed a pear packing facility in Bingen, Washington, while the company is rerouting its fruit and some of its employees to other Northwest packers.
The company, Underwood Fruit, plans to rebuild on an adjacent parcel.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms routinely investigates costly fires of unknown cause, said Don Gibson, president of Underwood Fruit Company, which owns pear and apple packing facilities in Bingen, located in the Columbia Gorge.
Wednesday’s fire caused losses “in the tens of millions” of dollars, though the company and its insurers have not put any specific dollar figures to the damage, Gibson said.
The blaze, which started between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m., destroyed the 92,000-square-foot-building, that included two packing lines and some state-of-the-art optical sizing equipment, among the first to be commercially used in the industry, Gibson said. Also lost were more than 100,000 of boxed pears and apples, stored in three separate rooms.
A nearby apple packing line was not damaged.
The company is steering more than 1 million unpacked boxes of pears to other packers in the Northwest. They will still be packaged and shipped with the Washington Fruit label, Gibson said. Underwood markets through Washington Fruit.
Zillah-based Stadelman’s Fruit, meanwhile, will put to work up to half the 150 employees displaced by the fire at the company’s Odell, Oregon, plant, Gibson said, with a swing shift packaging some of Underwood’s pears.
“We do this,” Gibson said. “We’re kind of a tight knit industry.”
Plans are uncertain, but the goal is to build a new pear facility on five neighboring acres already owned by the company for a future expansion, Gibson said.