July 22, 2014 - 2:47 PM
VERNON - Hundreds of wooden bins that would have been used in just a short time to pack the North Okanagan apple harvest were damaged or destroyed in what fire officials are calling a suspicious blaze.
The 11:30 p.m. fire Monday night at Growers Supply, the sales arm of B.C. Tree Fruits, located in the Middleton Mountain area of Vernon, burnt an estimated 1,200 to 1,500 packing bins stored there. Spokesperson Chris Pollock says that could mean losses in the $100,000 range, not to mention problems for North Okanagan farmers.
“The growers in the northern region rely on these bins for apple harvests which is coming up shortly,” Pollock says. “We’re going to do everything we can to ensure they get their apples off the tree, into a bin, to the packing facilities and into consumers' mouths.”
Salvaging some of the bins might be an option, but, Cam Stewart, regional manager for Grower Supply, says a food safety officer will likely be involved before they can be used.
“Anything that has smoke damage you can’t really pack fruit into. We’re going to make sure the bins are safe for the growers so they’re not putting their fruit in contaminated bins,” Stewart says.
Minus a few hours of limited access to the yard while fire and police crews attended the scene, Stewart says Grower Supply didn’t suffer any direct losses and is back to business as usual.
“It could’ve been much worse. The Vernon Fire Department deserves a lot of credit for getting on it as quick as they did,” Stewart says.
Stewart says there were around 18,000 of the wooden bins on site, protected by a chain link and barbed wire fence.
“We’re a prime target with all these bins sitting out here. It’s tempting for somebody (who’s) interested in wreaking havoc,” Stewart says. “It’s a little unnerving for sure.”
The company will be looking into security options like patrols and video surveillance, Stewart says.
Vernon’s alleged serial arsonist has so far evaded video surveillance, leaving investigators few clues in the hunt. Over the past few months, boats, dumpsters, wooden pallets, and most recently, the Kin Race Track grandstands were set on fire. Investigators say the fire at Growers Supply is consistent with the 21 other suspicious fires in the area lately.
“You hope they find the people, or the person, responsible for these,” Stewart says. “I know the community is struggling with it and it’s not good for anybody in Vernon to have that looming over them.”
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014