SALINAS — Multiple agencies from across Monterey County responded to a four-alarm fire that severely damaged Taylor Farms’ food production facility in Salinas last Wednesday.
The 225,000-square-foot building, located in the 1200 block of Abbott Street, had been closed for the winter but was in the process of restarting operations for the upcoming season when the fire broke out shortly after 7 p.m. on April 13. All onsite employees were evacuated, and no injuries were reported.
Salinas Fire Department arrived at the processing plant within minutes, and as the fire progressed, mutual aid from across the county was requested.
Nearly 100 firefighters from 22 fire units responded, in addition to Salinas Police Department, Monterey County Health Department, Environmental Protection Agency, California Highway Patrol, PG&E and state and local Offices of Emergency Services.
Approximately 35,000 pounds of ammonia were on the property, creating concern for the potential of a hazmat situation and explosion.
“The fire progressed to the point that it posed a significant risk for a potential explosion of ammonia that is located in the plant,” said Sam Klemek, deputy fire chief and incident commander. “For that reason, we pulled back our units to a safe area and began evacuation notices for the immediate area around the plant.”
The immediate area, about a 1-mile radius from the site, was evacuated in the early morning of April 14, and shelter-in-place advisories were issued for the surrounding areas “out of an abundance of caution,” the fire department said in a news release.
According to Salinas Fire Chief Michele Vaughn, anhydrous ammonia is “moisture seeking,” which means it can irritate one’s eyes, nose and throat and cause chemical burns.
“It is also very explosive, so with that amount of ammonia (35,000 pounds), that could have been devastating to this community,” Vaughn added.
A moderate leak was found after the Hazmat Team arrived on scene to evaluate potential hazards. Once the leak was secured just after 1 p.m. Thursday, all evacuation and shelter-in-place advisories were lifted.
“The City of Salinas and Salinas Fire Department are thankful to the community for adhering to emergency advisories and to the multiple agencies from across Monterey County and from the state who provided aid throughout this incident,” the fire department said.
The cause of the fire is under investigation, but early indications point to a welding project that sparked a fire in a wall and eventually spread to the facility’s attic, Vaughn said.
A video posted online from Salinas Police shows the moment when the roof collapses as the fire tears through the structure.
Taylor Farms, the world’s largest producer of fresh-cut vegetables, plans to continue operating its Yuma, Ariz., plant, which is currently servicing its customers, while the Salinas facility is rebuilt.
The company’s 20 other production locations remain in operation, as well.
“Over the next few days and weeks, Taylor Farms will be utilizing all of our North American capacity to continue to support our partners with assured supply,” the company said in a statement. “Our total production locations and geographic diversity is our best defense to this scenario. We will work to reassign and support our Salinas foodservice production team this season as we rebuild the facility.”