A fire that blazed for a few days ruined up to 300,000 bushels of sweet potatoes at a Southern Produce Distributors warehouse in Faison, N.C.
The company, however, says it will continue to supply customers with sweet potatoes at storage facilities in other states.
The fire started April 26 and destroyed about 120,000 square feet of the warehouse, less than half its size. A barrier and sprinkler system kept it from spreading further, said Brenda Oglesby, saleswoman.
“Right now all of our potatoes (on the unburned side) are in refrigeration, so they’re all right,” Oglesby said. “The part that burnt had potatoes and some equipment. There was a big pepper machine up there, too, but the major part of our warehouse was not burnt.”
Wooden crates kept the fire burning, according to media reports.
“The bad thing is most of what we use, cardboard boxes, wooden crates and even plastic, is flammable,” Oglesby said.
Oglesby said the company is able to ship sweet potatoes from its other warehouses in North Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana.
“It’s business as usual,” she said April 28. “We started packing in our other facilities first thing Monday morning. We’re still in good shape as far as the amount of potatoes we have to serve customers.”
Although a portion of the potatoes in the warehouse are salvageable, the company had to wait until emergency vehicles cleared the area, Oglesby said.
Sixty fire departments — all but two of them staffed by volunteers — from 10 counties fought the fire, Oglesby said.
“They operated as one fire department on the scene, and used millions of gallons of water,” she said.
Firefighters eventually had to truck in water from neighboring ponds and lakes, because they had taken Duplin County’s reservoirs down to critically low levels, according to media reports.
Despite the devastation the fire caused, it pales in comparison to a 1988 fire at a Southern Produce Distributors warehouse at the exact same location.
“It was a total loss that time,” Oglesby said. “You always have a lot of fear of it once you’ve experienced it. If you see smoke, you always think it’s yours.”
The cause of the 1988 fire was probably sparks from welding equipment, Oglesby said. Investigators have not determined a caused for the current blaze.
As the company did after the 1988 fire, Southern Produce Distributors plans to rebuild.
“We’ll definitely rebuild. We’ve got to. We’ve got too many people looking to us for sweet potatoes,” Oglesby said.
The timing of this fire gives the company some slack. Oglesby said a new warehouse will just need to be finished in time for the fall crop.