A four-alarm fire gutted this 15,000-square-foot building Sunday at the Gar Tootelian, Inc. plant east of Reedley. There were no reported injuries, and tanks of fertilizer weren't damaged. Submitted by Gar Tootelian
Written by David Castellon
Officials at Gar Tootelian, Inc. said today that customers shouldn’t expect delays in their fertilizer orders despite a four-alarm fire that broke out late Sunday morning at the company’s headquarters east of Reedley.
Damage from the fire is estimated at about $2 million, and on Monday investigators with the Fresno County Fire Department were working to determine its cause.
“We suspect it was a piece of equipment in our shop,” said Karen Musson, managing partner of the fertilizer supply company.
She said the plant, where large quantities of liquid and solid fertilizers are stored and distributed, was closed Sunday, but security staff became aware of the fire in a maintenance and fabrication building and called 911.
That call came in at 11:45 a.m., and firefighters heading to the scene reported receiving reports of some explosions, though Musson said she wasn’t aware of anything blowing up.
The 20,000-square-foot building – where equipment is repaired and parts are fabricated – was engulfed in flames when fire crews arrived, but of major concern was the threat of flames spreading to an attached building, causing fertilizer stored there to explode, said county Fire Capt. Jeremiah Wittwer.
As a result of that threat, and because of the size and intensity of the fire, about 100 firefighters and firefighting equipment from several fire departments throughout Fresno County were called in to assist in battling the blaze.
Musson said the bagged fertilizer in the adjoining building wasn’t at risk of exploding had the flames spread there, though the contents of the room could have further fueled the flames and made things harder and riskier for the firefighters.
Besides the challenge of fighting the fire in temperatures in the upper 90-degree range, Wittwer said a 28,000-gallon tank holding water for firefighting ran out, and fire crews had to pump water from a nearby creek.
He said the crews put down the fire in about an hour, without many flames getting into the storage building.
As for the fabrication and maintenance building, it was gutted, and its metal roof collapsed, he said.
Fortunately, that building is in the back of the Gar Tootelian facility, away from the large fertilizer storage tanks, Musson said.
“I just can’t say enough how incredible the response was from the firefighters,” she added.
Workers returned to the plant on Monday and some were filling orders as normal.
Others were assigned to help clear debris from the fire-ravaged building so work can begin on filing an insurance claim and applying for a permit to rebuild, Musson said.