(July 9, 2:09 p.m.) A faulty generator caused a fire fueled by ethylene gas, destroying some tomato ripening rooms at Gonzales Packing Co., Gonzales, Calif.

At 7:30 a.m. on July 8, Lelo Romero, dock supervisor, was turning on a generator for a room filled with ethylene gas when it exploded, said Tim Horwath, part owner.

“It blew up and he came at it with a fire extinguisher and couldn’t get it out,” Horwath said. “Within minutes the walls were on fire, black smoke was coming out. I just told everyone to get … out of here.”

The fire department responded within 15 minutes, but the blaze was not contained until about seven hours later.

Horwath said July 9 that 18,000 square feet of ripening rooms were destroyed. A nearby facility, where an average of 30 tons of tomatoes are packed in an hour was not damaged, but still had to be cleared of smoke.

He did not know the monetary damage to the facility or how much product was lost, but said the damaged tomatoes would be taken to a local landfill.

“We were shut down a few days prior to the fire, so we weren’t full from one end to the other with tomatoes,” he said. “We only had half the place full. Now it’s just a matter of cleaning it up and getting some portable units in here.”

He said that he hoped to be fully operational in a week.

“If the investigators and insurance company take their pictures and get out of the way, we’ll be packing by then,” he said.

He plans to bring in about 40 trailers to use as ripening rooms.

“We just add ethylene gas twice a day,” he said.

The facility has been in operation since 1958, and employs about 85 people. He said it has the capacity to pack 2 million boxes of green tomatoes annually under the Gonzales Pride and Tami labels.

Horwath said it also packs for four area growers, but declined to identify them.