ORONDO — It’s been nearly two weeks since a Pine Canyon Growers warehouse in Orondo caught fire — and the scorched remains have hardly been touched.
Pallets of charred apples still sit right where they were kept in the building’s cold storage rooms. A large air conditioning unit is still standing on spindly legs, even though the walls around it are gone.
But just across the street the company is already rebuilding a crucial part of its packing line lost in the fire.
The building housed an apple segregation line, a station where a group of about 10 people picked boxes of packed apples off a conveyor belt and sorted them onto pallets by size and type.
Pine Canyon’s packing operations ground to a halt when the line was lost in the fire. But the company has been able to buy old parts from other local fruit packers and hopes to have a makeshift line up and running by Wednesday.
“Luckily everyone had a little bit of this equipment so we were able to piece it together,” general manager Marc Spears said.
The company bought the used conveyor equipment from Gebbers Farms and Blue Star Growers, which sped up the rebuilding process by weeks.
“We checked with the manufacturer on brand-new equipment and they were three to five weeks out, so that really wasn’t an option,” he said.
The new conveyor is around 300 feet long, almost double the old one. It’s also closer to the main packing line.
It may not be a permanent fix, but they’re optimistic it’ll last for the season, which usually runs until the start of July.
“Everything is in such a state of flux right now, so we’ll see,” Spears said. “This’ll probably be permanent for the rest of the season, then we’ll see what to do about add-ons and new buildings.”
Pine Canyon was already planning to replace its main sorting line when the 2018-19 season ends next summer. Now a new segregation will be considered as well, Spears said.
“That’s the next phase, is figuring out what changes we need to make now considering we were already making some changes,” Spears said.
But quickly erecting a temporary segregation line was crucial; this is normally a busy season for the company.
“This is a busy time of the year, so we should be packing a lot right now,” Spears said. “In fact, once we fire up we’ll probably start going six days a week just to try to make up some time.”
Pine Canyon was just about to begin packing fruit for international orders when the fire hit, he said. A big chunk of its annual harvest is sent overseas.
“Especially packing for Chinese New Year is a big one for us,” Spears said.
The roughly 12,000 boxes of apples which burned in the fire were earmarked for their last few remaining domestic orders, he said. All of those orders had to be canceled.
The company is still working with its insurance provider to assess the total damage, but the lost orders and new segregation line should be covered under their plan, Spears said.
The insurance coverage also meant that the dozen workers who operated the line won’t lose their jobs as a result of the fire.
“We were able to keep everybody on the payroll through insurance given that we’ll be able to get up and running pretty quick,” Spears said. “Had we been down for six months I don’t know if the insurance would have covered everybody’s wages that long. A couple weeks? No problem.”