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April 20, 2022
Fire destroyed part of the Taylor Farms processing facility in Salinas, Calif., on April 13, just as the company was transferring production from its desert growing region across Southern California and Southwest Arizona.
Cause of the fire has not been released. Sam Klemek, incident commander and deputy fire chief for the Salinas Fire Department, said at a press conference aired by KSBW Channel 8, Monterey, that there were early indications of maintenance welding going on in the building at the time the fire started.
The fire began just after 7 p.m. The first fire crews arrived on scene three minutes later and found active fire, Klemek said. The fire quickly went to four alarms, with mutual aid requested from across Monterey County.
A big concern for firefighters was the 35,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia on site, which according to Salinas Fire Chief Michele Vaughn could have been deadly.
"Anhydrous ammonia is moisture seeking, so that means it is going to seek your eyes, nose and throat, and that's where we see chemical burns," Vaughn said. "It is also very explosive, so with that amount of ammonia it could have been devastating to this community."
Because of the ammonia and other stored chemicals on site, evacuations of the nearby agricultural commercial zone were ordered, and shelter-in-place orders were given for residents in the area.
Salinas Mayor Kimbley Craig praised the collaboration between Taylor Farms employees and first responders. Through the assistance of employees, emergency crews using drones were quickly able to assess high risk areas and chemical storage locations.
A Taylor Farms spokesperson said there were no injuries reported.
According to Rachel Molatore, director of communications for Taylor Farms, the facility on Abbott Street in Salinas is a food service production and distribution operation that manufactures wholesale products like bulk salads and shredded lettuce used by restaurants and schools. The facility does not produce retail products available to consumers. Those bagged products sold under the Taylor Farms brand are produced elsewhere within the company's network.
Molatore says the company plans to rebuild and reopen by Spring, 2023.
Meanwhile, Taylor Farms will rely upon its network of processing facilities, including the one in Yuma, Arizona to continue serving customers.
"Production at the Yuma facility has not stopped," Molatore said. "We will keep producing in Yuma through the summer at some level and distribute additional production throughout our Taylor Farms distribution network."
Taylor Farms has over 20 facilities across North America that process produce. Lettuce production was transitioning to the Salinas Valley from the desert region of southern California and Southwest Arizona at the time of the fire.
Associate Editor, Western Farm Press
Todd Fitchette, associate editor with Western Farm Press, spent much of his journalism career covering agriculture in California and the western United States. Aside from reporting about issues related to farm production, environmental regulations and legislative matters, he has extensive experience covering the dairy industry, western water issues and politics. His journalistic experience includes local daily and weekly newspapers, where he was recognized early in his career as an award-winning news photographer.
Fitchette is US Army veteran and a graduate of California State University, Chico.
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