Company officials weigh options after fire destroys fresh potato facility

of David BeeselyFire engulfs the Snake River Plains Potatoes fresh potato packing facility in Ucon, Idaho, on the morning of Dec. 26.#

UCON, Idaho ­— Company officials are considering their options after a Dec. 26 fire destroyed the Snake River Plains Potatoes packing facility that employed about 65 workers.

Dave Beesely, a Rigby potato farmer who is president of the company, said 4,000 hundredweight of unprocessed fresh potatoes and 3,000 hundredweight of packaged potatoes were in the building.

Beesely said the building was built more than a century ago as a grain elevator. The portion in which the fire originated was built 23 years ago. His best guess is that a heater in the truck shop may have started the fire.

“I’m finding work for as many of the employees as I can in other places,” Beesely said. “Some of the employees are going to be involved in the cleanup.”

Nine Eastern Idaho potato farmers are the company’s stockholders. They sell mostly Russet Burbanks to markets throughout the country, with most of their volume shipped to the East Coast.

Beesely said the company hasn’t made plans for the future but has “some options where we may consolidate with another operation or rebuild.”

The Ucon Volunteer Fire Department responded to a passing motorist’s report of the fire at Snake River Plains Potatoes at 12:40 a.m. Dec. 26 and arrived to find the roughly 100,000-square-foot building fully engulfed in flames, said Fire Chief Scott Norman.

Norman said the cause had not been determined as of Dec. 28, and the owners were awaiting an investigation by their insurance company.

Norman said the factory was closed for the holidays when the fire broke out and employees hadn’t been inside in a few days. He said 30 mph winds rapidly spread the flames.

Norman said eight engines and three fire tenders were brought in to fight the fire. He had all of his crews at the scene and was assisted by the Ammon Fire Department and the Jefferson County Fire District.

It took firefighters four hours to control the fire, and crews who remained to put out “hot spots” finally left the scene on the night of Dec. 27.

“The problem is the building is so big and there were so many spots that hadn’t collapsed, so I could not send people inside,” Norman said.

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