Fire breaks out at former creamery in Gustine

vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.February 16, 2014 

A fire caused massive damage to a vacant creamery in Gustine on Sunday. No injuries were reported in the blaze.

VICTOR A. PATTON — Victor A. Patton

— — A fire broke out at an abandoned creamery Sunday morning, prompting authorities to evacuate 25 nearby homes.

No injuries were reported during the incident.

According to Battalion Chief Jeremy Rahn of Calfire, the fire was reported at 7:05 a.m. at the former Land O’ Lakes facility at 240 North Avenue in Gustine. When firefighters arrived at the scene they saw heavy smoke emanating from the 100,000-square-foot plant.

Part of the structure’s ceiling caved in during the blaze. Rahn said residents near the plant were evacuated because the the direction the smoke was traveling. City officials said the residents were taken to a local center.

The plant was built in 1934, was operated by Beatrice Foods for several years before its sale in 2000. It’s been vacant since 2005, Rahn said.

Because of concerns over smoke, authorities evacuated homes in the vicinty while 40 firefighters handled the blaze, Rahn said.

The plant’s value is estimated at $5.5 million. A damage estimate has not yet been determined.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. Authorities at the scene said the abandoned plant had been the site of recent break-ins.

According to Mayor Dennis Brazil, the plant employed around 150 people when it was operational.

Brazil said the building’s current owner resides in Denver, and the structure has been a frequent target of burglars, particularly copper theives. Brazil said the thefts alone have caused around $1 million in damage to the building, with theives taking control panels, wiring and other items from the aging structure. Brazil said power had been turned off to the building prior to Sunday’s fire.

Two engines from Gustine Fire Department, a ladder truck from Los Banos Fire Department, an engine from Newman Fire Department, eight engines from Calfire/Merced County Fire Department, four chief officers and Red Cross responded to the scene. Crews from Westside Ambulance were on standby at the scene.

“This is another example of good coordination between the local agencies,” Rahn said.

Sun-Star City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.

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