Massive fire engulfs Underwood Fruit & Warehouse

The fruit farm is in Bingen, WA

Flames at Underwood Fruit & Warehouse, October 18 2017. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Giant flames engulfed at least one warehouse at Underwood Fruit & Warehouse on Wednesday morning. The fire’s economic impact, in the word of company president Don Gibson, is “going to be very big.”

The fruit farm is located at 6550 Washington 14 in Bingen, Washington. Klickitat County officials confirmed the 2-alarm fire was reported around 5:30 a.m. By the time firefighters arrived, it was too late to save the already engulfed part of the warehouse.

Go Fund Me for the workers affected by the fire

The fire flared up again Wednesday evening after finding a new fuel source. Klickitat fire officials said there isn’t much they can do but let it burn out. They are watching to make sure it doesn’t spread.

“The avenue of attack was to basically back away and go into defensive mode to protect the rest of the facility,” said Eric Bosler with the Klickitat County Fire Department.

On Wednesday afternoon, Klickitat Emergency Management said the fire had been contained to one building, though they did expect the fire to flare up and release heavy smoke. HWY 14 is open with traffic controls and may be closed and a detour put in place if conditions change.

Fire agencies from as far as an hour away were called to suppress the fire and protect the other facilities. According to Bosler, it was tough to get enough water down to the warehouse, so  they brought in several tankers because the hydrants couldn’t meet the demand.

“When you have this many apparatus trying to put out that much water hydrants are extremely stressed at that point,” Bosler said.

Gibson said the extent of the damage is unknown, but a large part of the facility will have to be rebuilt.

“Until the fire is actually controlled and put out, we really can’t assess well what situation we’re in,” he said.

The fire, according to Gibson, comes at a very inopportune time. The company, which packs and ships for over 50 growers in the area, has about 270 workers. Gibson said it’s peak pear season and about 150 people were involved in the fruit’s packing and shipping. He also said 70 workers are designated to apple processing and packing, but that sector doesn’t appear to be in harms way.

Employee Jeffrey Rito — who has worked at the farm for 2 years — said he was in a state of shock watching the giant flames engulf the building from across the street.

“Everybody was going to go into work and obviously they showed up and then we stayed back,” Rito said.

Gibson said the economic impact is going to be big big for the company and the area until they can get a new facility built, which he expects to not be for another 12-18 months. Still, he urged his employees to remain optimistic.

“To our employees: We’ve been here a hundred years. This is our hundred year anniversary and we will rebuild and we will be back,” Gibson said. “To our growers: We have a long-time commitment to them and their fruit is affected, but we are well-insured and they should be covered just fine.”

Due to the air quality concerns created by the smoke, the White Salmon School District decided to keep recess indoors and cancel all outdoor school activities for Wednesday.

The students are all too familiar with this drill as they spent weeks indoors because of the Eagle Creek Fire.

“We’ve gained a lot of experience around fire this year,” said Jerry Lewis the school district’s superintendent.

Fortunately, Bosler said, “There’s no imminent danger to the rest of the community. The hazards that were on site have been identified.”