Fire engines still were stationed at the Initiative Foods baby food plant, putting out hot spots and beginning an investigation late Monday morning into what caused the plant to ignite in flames early Sunday.
Dozens of employees gathered outside the smoldering plant as company officials surveyed the rubble, tried to reassure their workers and began pondering options for restarting production.
At the plant, power lines dangled down charred poles. Glass jars of orange baby food, fully intact, were jumbled with mounds of burned cardboard and sections of roofing. Firefighters continue to find small fires under collapsed roofing, and debris continues to float from the sky.
The fire, which destroyed a complex of buildings encompassing about 200,000 square feet, drew 75 firefighters from 11 different agencies, including Fresno, Clovis and Fresno County Fire.
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At the fire station, Sanger fire Chief Greg Tarascou gripped a Naval Academy mug filled with black coffee, which he says has been fueling him since the fire began at 3 a.m. Sunday at 1117 K St. near Academy and Annadale avenues.
Tarascou said the power lines were shut down because they posed life-threatening safety concerns. With the power went water pressure, because a well was positioned right beneath the lines. He said the defensive attack strategy the firefighters implemented was likely taking all the water the residents had until firefighters were able to tap a nearby underground canal.
Residents on K Street were without power most of Sunday afternoon and dealt with low water pressure.
Tarascou said the investigation will be tough because such a large area of the roof collapsed over what could be the area of origin. Investigators will have to dig to find the markers that will reveal the fire’s origin and cause.
“There could be thousands of pounds of material on something small like a hot plate,” he said. At the time, investigators concluded fire sprinklers were installed intermittently through the building, but whether their absence contributed to the fire cannot be determined until the room of origin is discovered.
Initiative Foods makes Nature’s Promise baby foods and the Organic store brand seen at Sprouts and Safeway/Vons stores. It employed approximately 100 people. Employees gathered at the burned-out plant Monday morning, and owner John Ypma said company officials were looking at what they could do to help workers while the company rebuilds.
James Ypma, the company’s production manager and safety coordinator, said the company is looking at all of its options for resuming production. But Ypma did not have a time frame for when that would happen.
“We are not in a position to produce daily food, but we are working towards getting there,” Ypma said.
The company told its customers about the fire and Ympa said the response has been very supportive.
As of Monday afternoon, Ypma said he had not been able to go into the plant to take stock of any usable equipment. Ypma said that while he and other company officials are looking for a way to resume making baby food, they are committed to remaining in the city.
“We love working in Sanger and we love the community,” Ypma said. “And we hope to rebuild.”
Tarascou also had kind words for Sanger residents, who donated food, water and Gatorade and volunteered time and resources in support of the rotations of firefighters who had been on site between 24 and 48 hours. He said the donations are indicative of the community.
“We’re a tight-knit family here in Sanger,” Tarascou said.
Sequoia Chevrolet Buick GMC owner Marty Dority and his wife, Heather, had been at the scene Monday morning since 7 a.m. after volunteering all day Sunday. They brought breakfast burritos – “the best ones in town,” Heather said – from Carnitas y Mariscos Colima.
The Doritys opened their business for firefighters to cool down and use the restroom. Starbucks, Jack in the Box and McDonald’s also donated food for the firefighters pulling all-nighters to put out the fire.
Marty Dority said he had never thought about where firefighters on the job got their food until the Initiative Foods fire. Most of it, he concluded, came from volunteers.
The Doritys agreed that the amount of money they spent in contributions didn’t matter.
“It was a long day, and they really busted their hineys,” Heather Dority said. “What these men have done has helped the community.”