Processing Magazine

Fire causes serious damage at Florida potato processing plant

May 15, 2013
The fire was eventually put out after nearly four hours, during which time numerous fire engines and tankers tried to get the blaze under control.

Fire broke out at a potato processing plant in the early hours of Saturday morning in Hastings, St. Johns County, Fla. The local fire rescue department and the Putnam County fire department were informed of an industrial fire at around 3:15 am at Middleton Farms.

By the time firefighters arrived at the scene, a number of warehouse structures had already been engulfed in flames. No people were at the site and no injuries were reported. There were no hazardous materials stored in the buildings either, it was announced. The fire was eventually put out after nearly four hours, during which time numerous fire engines and tankers tried to get the blaze under control. Despite their efforts, several buildings were completely burned down. Fire rescue teams remained at the plant for several hours after the fire was extinguished to examine the scene and to clean up. An investigation into what caused the fire was launched by the St. Johns County Fire Rescue and the State Fire Marshal's Office.

According to Leighton Middleton, owner of the building, the cost of the damage is likely to exceed $500,000. The fire broke out just days after his barn in Elkton, a few miles away, was destroyed by a tornado. Middleton explained that staff at the potato processing plant were safe and their jobs will remain intact, despite the serious damage to the facility.

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Bad luck has been following us, Middleton told reporters at News 4 Jax, a local TV station that covered the incident, as this second incident happened before the debris from the barn had been cleared and the damage on the fields from the extreme weather conditions had been taken care of.

The next few days will be a big challenge, he went on. At present, workers are harvesting potatoes as it is the potato season in Hastings, so dealing with the crops is more important than anything else, the owner stated. Despite the challenges, Middleton is grateful that both accidents left no one injured. Both the barn and the processing plant had been insured, he noted.

His optimism is fueled by the fact that the fire destroyed storage buildings while the main processing facility was largely intact, meaning that business did not have to be suspended until repair works have been completed. The consequences were grave but not hopeless, he pointed out. The fire damaged mostly equipment, such as packing technology, bags in which the potatoes are placed, baggers, sewing machines, a fork lift, different types of electric motors and gear boxes. The most expensive piece of equipment lost is a cooler, which will have to be replaced as quickly as possible to ensure that the crops are kept fresh.