Naumes plant burns in Northern California

Medford-based Naumes Inc. will rebuild a California fruit-packing operation partially destroyed in a fire Friday and put employees back to work as soon as possible, a company spokesperson said Sunday.

Naumes' 180-acre New England Orchards in Yuba County, Calif., lost several buildings in the blaze, causing several millions dollars in damage and putting 200 seasonal jobs in jeopardy.

"We had already finished cherry harvest," said Robert Boggess, Naumes general counsel and real estate manager. "Everyone had been laid off seasonally and then were scheduled to come back for pear season."

A supply warehouse, employee lunch room, restrooms, segregation room and four out of 10 cold-storage rooms were destroyed in the blaze.

Boggess said the company plans to set up some temporary facilities and make some temporary repairs so that at least some, if not all, employees can return to work for pear season, which begins in the next three to four weeks. Permanent repairs would be made after operations resume, he said.

The fire was reported by a passerby at 8 p.m. at 3792 Feather River Blvd. in rural Yuba County, north of Sacramento. No one was at the site at the time of the fire, and the fire appeared to have been burning for some time before anyone noticed it, said Rich Webb, chief of the Linda Fire Protection District.

It took about three hours for nearly 50 firefighters to control the fire, and crews continued mopping up overnight, Webb said. Five firefighters were treated for heat exhaustion, and one of them was transported to a hospital and released the same night.

Residents reported seeing flames from two to three miles away, he said.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation Sunday.

The company was fortunate that the heart of operations — the packing warehouse — survived the flames, Boggess said. The packing warehouse has two packing lines, and one could be running again in the next three weeks in time to pack red pears, he said.

New England Orchards packs 15 to 17 tons of pears each year, Boggess said.

Naumes operates orchards equaling about 2,400 acres in California, 1,800 acres in Oregon and 800 acres in Washington state. The Medford family-owned company produces cherries, pears, walnuts, persimmons and peaches. It was founded in 1946 by Joe Naumes.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail

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