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Business World photo/Reilly Kneedler Chelan County Fire District 6 Assistant Chief Andy Lee walks around the smoldering Blue Bird warehouse in Peshastin on March 4.

Blue Bird fire a $17 million loss; investigation continues

PESHASTIN — Officials estimate the total damages for the Blue Bird warehouse fire at $17 million.

The 36,000-square-foot building in Peshastin caught fire about 7:05 p.m. March 3 and was destroyed.

Inside were 12 cold storage rooms, 10 of which were filled with roughly 250,000 boxes of pears, according to a news release from Chelan County Fire Marshal Bob Plumb. The building was valued at $8 million and the fruit $9 million.

Crews will demolish the building within the next two weeks and in the meantime, residents can expect continued smoke from the rubble and, at times, open flames as materials burn, the release said.

The north wall of the building is considered unstable and could fall outward. The public is advised to avoid the area and the road next to the wall.

The cause of the fire is undetermined, but investigators haven’t ruled out the possibility of arson, according to the release.

The fire is believed to have started beneath an awning outside the building where pallets of cardboard and other combustible fruit packing materials were stored. A nearby light was identified as a possible ignition source.

Fruit label manufacturer opening facility in Cashmere

CASHMERE — A California company that makes fruit labels will open a manufacturing facility in the Port of Chelan County’s new Cashmere business park this spring.

The port on March 7 announced Hurst International as the park’s first tenant. The company will lease 6,500 square feet.

It’s expected to bring 10 jobs and $1 million investment to the area, according to the release.

The company makes both fruit labels and labeling equipment. It has several clients in North Central Washington, including Gebbers Farms, Auvil Fruit and Chelan Fruit.

“We have had a growing presence in the region with our cutting-edge products and processes. Now is the time to add a manufacturing presence to serve our growing list of customers in Washington State,” Hurst International Founder Ari Lichtenberg said in a news release.

The port began construction on the park’s two 16,500-square-foot buildings in September. They’re both expected to be completed in late spring.

State congressional delegation: Open Japanese markets to Washington apples

NCW — U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Dan Newhouse are leading the state congressional delegation in asking the Trump administration to seek access for Washington apples to Japanese markets.

In a letter March 5 to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, the delegation called out Japanese policies that have restricted apple growers from shipping to that country.

“Washington state apple growers produce roughly 67 percent of the apples grown in the United States and are responsible for approximately 90 percent of exports,” the letter reads in part. “Our growers have long sought meaningful access to the Japanese market. Unfortunately, sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) policies imposed by Japan have drastically inhibited their ability to ship apples to this high-priority market for decades.”

Japan relaxed some policies in a 2003 World Trade Organization dispute resolution case brought by the U.S. However, the delegation noted, the policies still in place are “costly and logistically challenging.”

“We fully support the rights of countries to enact science-based measures to protect against the importation of pests and diseases that can be harmful to their domestic agricultural industries,” the letter says. “However, pest and disease concerns not supported by science are often used as an excuse to impose overly restrictive requirements on imports that are intended to serve as market barriers and protect domestic industries against foreign competition.”

That’s against international trade rules, the delegation said.

In April 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service submitted a proposal to Japan that would address pest concerns through actions taken in the apple growing, packing and shipping processes. Japan has not responded.