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ATF takes on Underwood Fruit fire inquiry

Blaze destroys large part of Bingen facility on Wednesday morning

Hood River News’ RJ Chavez took the photo below, across the Columbia River, at about 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Photo by RJ Chavez
Hood River News’ RJ Chavez took the photo below, across the Columbia River, at about 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Underwood Fruit and Warehouse was heavily damaged by fire Wednesday, the second urban fire in less than three weeks in the Mid-Columbia Gorge, after the Hood River Kayak Shed fire Sept. 27.

According to a press release from Klickitat County Emergency Management, “At approximately 5:45 this morning (Oct. 18), an industrial fire broke out at the Underwood Fruit and Warehouse Co. on the west end of Bingen.”

At the time and throughout most of the day, the fire was contained to one building, the pear processing plant. The fire did reach some low hanging power lines, which plunged much of Bingen into a power outage for most of the day, and residents reported exploding transformers.

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Eric Strid sent in an image taken looking east over Bingen.

As of Friday at 8 a.m., the fire is under control and contained to the building of origin, county officials stated in an email, adding, “The public should expect to see minor smoke from the site for one or two more days. Investigators are on site and Bingen Fire Department is checking on conditions periodically. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.”

During the White Salmon City Council meeting Wednesday, it was announced that the fire had spread to another building and that the building could not be saved without putting firefighters at risk. Fire Command also announced that it has asked the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to investigate the cause of the fire, which is yet to be determined.

While there were no official evacuation orders put in place, some businesses at the Port of Klickitat chose to self-evacuate, citing concerns of the fire reaching other buildings that contained hazardous material. Some local school bus routes were canceled or redirected to keep students out of the smoke. No workers or firefighters were hurt.

At about 4:45 p.m. Wednesday, another statement from Klickitat County Emergency Management was released, stating, “The fire is still contained to one building. However, due to structural instability, the fire continues to burn on the interior.” This made it unsafe for firefighters to enter the structure, which led to the decision to let the fire burn itself out. Fire Command said to expect flare-ups throughout the remainder of the day.

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Kyle Coxon’s photo is a bird’s eye view with Hood River in the background.

Eleven Klickitat County fire departments, Underwood Fire Department, Burlington Northern Santa Fe fire train, Hood River Fire Department, Wy’East Fire District, Skamania Fire Department, and Mid-Columbia Fire & Rescue were involved in the firefighting efforts. In the first few hours of the fire, four or five tankers were on scene.

Artistic Excavation, owned by Jason Krebs of the Underwood department, brought in a 4,000-gallon tanker truck.

“This is what you do in a small community, you have equipment that is needed, you make it available. You share resources,” Krebs said.

Underwood Fruit has been in Bingen since 1917, and the plant itself since the 1920s. It employs many people in the Bingen-White Salmon area, and many of them have effectively lost their jobs because of the fire.

Leslie Naramore of Washington Gorge Action Programs (WGAP) has established a GoFundMe account, www.gofundme.com/underwoodfruitfire for those affected, which, as of Oct. 19, had raised $6,515.

Ken Park, White Salmon Enterprise, and Kirby Neumann-Rea, Hood River News, contributed to this article.



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