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Hazelnut facility recovering from fire

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Mateusz Perkowski
A fire destroyed part of an Oregon farmer's hazelnut drying facility in the early morning of Oct. 13. Henry Beutler expects to rebuild the damaged portion of the plant by next year's harvest.

Farmer Henry Beutler expected to resume receiving, cleaning and drying hazelnuts despite a weekend fire that destroyed part of his processing facility near Salem, Ore.

The cause of the Oct. 13 blaze is still a mystery, but firefighters reacted quickly enough to save roughly half of Beutler’s drying capacity, as well as his cleaning equipment and nearby structures.

Beutler said he is baffled by the fire. He had just checked the affected dryers two hours before they broke out in flames at about 2 a.m.

“They’d been running perfectly the whole season,” he said.

The facility typically operated 24 hours a day during the harvest season, so Beutler knew something was wrong when he awoke and realized the machinery wasn’t running.

Fire crews soon arrived at the plant and extinguished the blaze by about 6 a.m., he said. “Their response time was incredible.”

While the facility was insured, Beutler said it would be impossible to replace the damaged equipment this harvest season. He plans to have the machinery replaced by next autumn.

The plant resumed receiving hazelnuts from other farmers on Oct. 14, with the crop then sent to other nearby cleaners and dryers for processing.

“Everybody is pitching in, helping these guys out,” said Larry George, president of the George Packing Co., which further processes, packs and sells the hazelnuts. Beutler operates one of 17 receiving stations for the company.

George said the incoming hazelnuts will be routed to other receiving stations until Beutler is able to get his remaining equipment up and running.

Roughly 200,000 pounds of hazelnuts were destroyed in the fire, which is less than the 400,000 pounds initially estimated because some of the crop was salvageable, he said.

While the fire has complicated logistics for George Packing Co., the burned hazelnuts were insured by the company and Beutler, George said. “This doesn’t affect the growers at all.”

Polly Owen, executive director of the Oregon Hazelnut Marketing Board, said that dryer fires are not common but they have occurred in the past, with the industry pulling together to overcome the processing challenge.

The 2013 hazelnut harvest is about two-thirds finished and farmers are generally optimistic about the crop and the strong initial price of $1.15 per pound, she said.



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