The evacuation and shelter-in-place orders were lifted just after 1 p.m. Thursday, nearly 5 p.m. later.
The Salinas Fire Department says 85-90% of the 225,000 square foot building is a total loss.
Taylor Farms is a large agricultural company that offers many salad kits found in grocery stores and is a major employer.
The 35,000 gallons of ammonia the facility had, an explosive chemical that even forced firefighters to evacuate, made things even more dangerous during the blaze.
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“With that 35,000 gallons of ammonia, it could have been devastating to this community,” said Salinas Fire Chief Michele Vaugan. “We’re talking about a big explosion, with major damage throughout the community, not just Taylor Farms.”
Sean McCluskey owns Trajectory EV, a company just down the road from the facility.
He and his workers were evacuated and were among the first to witness the fire.
“You (could) see the flames and the smoke and everything straight from Taylor Farms,” McCluskey said.
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Most of the surrounding area is made up of other businesses, which have been evacuated. Residential areas downwind of the blaze were ordered to shelter in place and schools canceled classes due to toxic smoke caused by ammonia.
The plant was closed for the season and many workers were expected to come in from Yuma, Ariz., on Monday.
No product or anyone was inside, but Taylor Farms says executives have been in meetings all day to address the thousands of affected employees.
“We are working internally, Bruce Taylor, has met with the VPs of the various divisions to make sure that all the people who are struggling, mainly the workers who are in Yuma, come here just to make sure we take care of everyone, solve the problem,” said Darin Salden of Taylor Farms.
The company also faces the challenge of how to process the food that ends up on our tables.
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“We have other factories in the immediate area,” Salden said. “We are working on all the options available to us to continue to offer our products to our customers and to ensure that everything continues.”
Now that the looming threat is gone, the main concern for Sean McCluskey and the rest of this AG-driven community is jobs.
“Owners have insurance, shareholders have insurance,” he said, “But we have no way to protect people’s jobs, their livelihoods.”
Firefighters, hazardous materials and the Environmental Protection Agency remained at the scene.
An official cause of the fire is under investigation, but the fire department says there are indications that a welding project started a fire in a wall.
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