(Jan. 17) Lemon Hills Organics, an Escondido, Calif. citrus grower-packer, suffered a fire that destroyed its 10,000-square-foot packing shed and all packing equipment, an estimated loss of $500,000.

The company also does business as Maranatha Citrus.

Owner Albert Salazar said workers were installing a new fruit sorting machine when a spark ignited sponges in a nearby washing machine.

“A little fire didn’t take long to spread up to the roof and the insulation caught fire,” he said. “As it spread across the roof, it (melting insulation) dripped fire down and anything that could burn caught fire.”

Salazar said by the time the fire department arrived 30 minutes later, the entire shed was burning. He said, depending on his insurance company, it may take up to 90 days before he can start packing again. A separate 1,500-square-foot cooler was not damaged.

In the meantime, Salazar said he would have to send his fruit to another packer. Lemon Hills packs its own lemons, as well as valencia oranges and grapefruit. He said he was going to start packing avocados this year.