Food processing

Salinas fire at food processing plant misses ammonia storage site, averting potential hazmat disaster

Shelter-in-place and evacuation orders were lifted Thursday afternoon for businesses and thousands of residents near a Salinas food processing plant that was engulfed in an overnight fire and caused a hazmat alert, Salinas officials said.

The fire at a Taylor Farms facility was brought under control Thursday afternoon. About 90% of the building where the blaze started was deemed a total loss, Salinas Deputy Fire Chief Samuel Klemek told a news conference. No injuries or deaths were reported. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

“Our main concern throughout the fire was that it was going to go into on-site ammonia storage” with about 35,000 gallons of toxic gas, Klemek said.

The ammonia was secured and hazmat crews remained on site to monitor the area, firefighters and city officials said.

“We ask that you continue to stay away from the area,” Salinas Mayor Kimbley Craig said. “It’s still a very active scene.”

Shelter and evacuation orders have been lifted for nearly 37,000 affected people.

The blaze was first reported as a fire alarm shortly after 7:15 p.m. Wednesday and quickly escalated, officials said. A video posted on social media showed large plumes of smoke. Firefighters battled the blaze Thursday morning with help from local, county and state agencies.

Four nearby elementary schools have been ordered to close, although no students or staff are on campus because they are on spring break this week, school district officials said. Maintenance staff have been instructed not to visit the four schools. All schools in the Salinas Union School District have canceled classes for the day.

Officials from Taylor Farms, a major producer of cut fruits and vegetables, said in a statement that the facility was closed for the winter season and “the team was not producing on-site.”

Workers on site were safely evacuated, the company said, and no injuries were reported. The plant is typically used to trim, wash and wrap bagged salads and cut vegetables.

“We are extremely grateful to all of the first responders who helped ensure the safety of all personnel on site at the facility and those in the surrounding area,” the company said in a statement.

The company added that it did not expect a supply disruption as 20 other production sites continued to operate.

Freelance photographer Nic Coury contributed to this report.

Jessica Flores (her) is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @jessmflores