Central Valley almond huller faces millions in losses after fire

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FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KSEE) — A Fresno County almond hulling plant faces millions in financial damages, according to the plant’s general manager.

On Saturday, almond hull piles ignited at Superior Almond Hulling in Cantua Creek, a remote area in Western Fresno County.

The plant works with over 300 growers and supplies almond hulls across the Central Valley. The general manager Kevin Long says the fires started due to a combination of natural causes over the last few weeks.

“Internal combustion happens. You get the fire, get the heat. And then we had 50 mph winds,” Long said.

When the fire began it was just a handful of almond piles. Throughout Saturday and through the night, the fire spread to over 30 piles. But into Saturday night, Cal Fire was able to work with plant workers to contain the blaze to the piles and protect buildings and equipment.

“All the employees are safe,” Long said. “No equipment damaged. No structural damage to the plant.”

A spokesperson for Cal Fire tells KSEE24 many almond hull fires are started by spontaneous combustion. A reaction happens within the hulls as they dry which generates heat. Kevin Long has worked in the ag industry for decades and says he’s never seen a hull fire this big.

“There’s really no way to prevent mother nature. A 4 inch rain over 2-3 day period, we just don’t see that here.”

The almond hulls lost in the blaze would’ve been sold over the next several months mostly to dairy farmers for feed. Long and his team are protecting and salvaging what hulls they have left, but will have to navigate how to fulfill orders for their existing clients.

“We had contracts with commodity brokers and dairies for getting this product throughout the rest of the next 6-7 months.”

Long says the fires could burn for up to two weeks. But he says this upcoming week he is meeting with Superior Almond Hulling’s insurance company to look into hiring a private firefighting service because Cal Fire has transitioned the firefighting efforts back to Super Almond Hulling because no structures are threatened at this time. The blaze remains contained in the hull piles.

A Cal Fire spokesperson says the agency is continuing to monitor the situation and will step back in to help if needed.

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