Second suspected arson at fruit packer warehouse in two days sparks four-alarm fire; damages could reach $20 million, according to officials.
YAKIMA — Arson is blamed for a four-alarm fire Saturday morning at a Yakima warehouse that required fire crews from as far away as Kittitas County and caused an estimated $20 million in damage.
It was the second time in 48 hours that fire broke out at Fruit Packers Supply Inc. Both fires are under investigation by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The fire, which was first reported at 1:48 a.m., took nearly eight hours to bring under control and destroyed two steel buildings, a pair of semi-trucks and multiple stacks of cardboard fruit packing material and boxes.
“Almost everything we saved Thursday is gone,” Yakima Fire Capt. Don Wolterstortf said, referring to the earlier fire that caused an estimated $1 million worth of damage. Shift Commander Tom Schneider estimated the damage of Saturday’s blaze to be much more, at $20 million.
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The fast-moving fire was so intense that firefighters were called in from a dozen departments or districts from as far away as the Lower Valley and Kittitas County.
“This fire was a defensive fire attack right away, meaning no one was entering the building due to the fuel load and many small explosions from chemicals and propane tanks inside the business,” said Yakima Fire Department Capt. Jeff Pfaff. “There were no lives at risk inside, and the fire was spreading rapidly.”
Wind-blown embers were reported to have started fires in residential yards and trees up to several blocks away from the fire.
The fire also knocked out power to more than 1,000 homes and businesses. Electricity was expected to be fully restored by 11 p.m. Saturday, said Pacific Power spokesman Tom Gauntt.
By 10 a.m., firefighters had the fire contained, and turned their attention to pulling apart large bales of cardboard to quench hot spots. Firefighters are expected to remain on site through Sunday looking for hot spots that could reignite.
A company official said the fire, while devastating, will not shut down operations.
“We’re working Monday,” said General Manager Ken Osborn.
Despite the scope of Saturday’s fire, Osborn said it will likely be more of a “pinch” for the company, which employs 30 people at the site. Employees will return to work Monday and company operations will resume, he said.
“We have a good infrastructure with manufacturers and vendors,” Osborn said, adding that he was grateful for the strong response from firefighters from across the Valley who came to put out the fire.
Investigators did not indicate why they consider the blaze a case of arson, but they noted Saturday’s fire started far from the area that burned on Thursday.
The warehouse fire was one of two that fire crews responded to early Saturday. At 1:44 a.m., firefighters found a pile of stumps burning near U.S. Highway 12 off Gordon Road, about a mile from the warehouse. Crews had that fire extinguished in 20 minutes.
While it was a similar pattern to Thursday, where a fire on the Yakima Greenway was reported minutes before the warehouse fire, Schneider said there’s no evidence at this point that Saturday’s pair are linked.