Lindsay fire burns for 24 hours

By Reggie Ellis

Tulare County firefighters worked more than 24 hours last Thursday and Friday to contain a fire at a manufacturing plant north of Lindsay.

The fire at Harvest Container, 24476 Road 216, was discovered at about 5:10 p.m. when employees working the second shift noticed smoke and flames coming from baled cardboard scraps stacked three palettes high. General Manager Dennis Del Rio said there were about 20 people at the plant including office personnel, who tried to put out the smoldering pile on the southwest side of the building and then called the fire department.

In the next 20 minutes the fire quickly spread from along the southern side of the plant fueled by palettes of paper waiting to be processed into corrugated containers used for fruit packing and shipping. The stack was 80 feet wide by 330 feet long and about 15 feet high.

"There was a slight breeze blowing west to east that carried the ashes down the side," he said. "The flames were high enough to burn the side of the silo" about 20-25 feet above the height of the structure.

"There were probably more than 1 million pieces back here," Del Rio said. He said the company delivers several hundred thousands of the containers daily. "When something like that is burning it's real hard to put out."

Ash was reportedly seen floating all the way across Lindsay and you could smell the smoke almost to Highway 198, several miles away. Batallion Chief Mike Davidson said the heat was intense that fire department vehicles had to be backed up 50 feet to avoid heat damage. Several rows of an adjacent orange grove were also scorched just from the heat.

At about 7:05 p.m. on May 19, embers from the fire ignited another fire that burned two acres on Todd's Hill a little more than a mile southeast from the company. Seven engines resonded to that fire to protect the fire from spreading to nearby homes. Davidson said large pieces of burnt cardboard were found at the scene.

"It was a monstrous piling of kindling [at the manufacturing plant]," Davidson said. "The heat column coming off that pile was tremendous."

More than 50 firefighters responded to the commercial fire. Also responding were engines from county fire departments in Lindsay, Exeter, West Olive in Porterville and Doyle Colony east of Porterville and the Lindsay City Fire Department; a truck from Exeter and Tulare; water tenders from Lindsay, Doyle Colony and Pixley; breathing support from Visalia.

"I have to compliment the professionalism and determination of the fire department," Del Rio said. "Without their tenacious attention this could have been an extreme disaster. They really did an outstanding job."

Tulare County fire officials estimated the damage to be $1.4 million to the structure and $600,000 to product. Much of the metal of south side wall was twisted and mangles by the intense heat. Del Rio said the fire also damaged the electrical transformer providing power to the building and a few pieces of equipment. Del Rio said the company will assess its inventory and make sure its clients still receive their supplies.

"We can fix this," he said. "Once the situation is over we will work to come up to speed as quickly as possible."

Harvest Container has been in operation at the location for 21 years delivering corrugated containers for packing and shipping fruit throughout the Central Valley. Del Rio said Harvest Containers Co. Inc. is owned by four major stockholders, Cal Citrus, LoBue Bros., Paramount and Sun Pacific packing houses. Harvest Containers employs about 65 people.

"If those rolls of paper would have ignited it would have been a lot worse," Del Rio said, referring to another large stockpile of paper on the opposite side of the building.

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