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Blue Bird : begins to rebuild fire-ravaged facility

11/28/2015 | 11:43pm US/Eastern

Nov. 28-- value="LU/us.wa.wenhee" idsrc="xmltag.org">WENATCHEE -- As promised, Blue Bird Inc. is rising from the ashes.

The fruit company, one of the largest in central value="LS/us.wa" idsrc="xmltag.org">Washington, has begun replacing $30 million in buildings and equipment damaged or destroyed at its value="LU/us.wa.wenhee" idsrc="xmltag.org">Wenatchee facility in last summer's Sleepy Hollow Fire.

Executives had said the company would rebuild on its present site despite the city of value="LU/us.wa.wenhee" idsrc="xmltag.org">Wenatchee's hopes for other types of development on the property.

Last week, value="NASDAQ-NMS:BLBD" idsrc="xmltag.org">Blue Bird contract construction crews began pouring concrete footings at the site.

On June 28, the Sleepy Hollow Fire destroyed 30 homes in northwest value="LU/us.wa.wenhee" idsrc="xmltag.org">Wenatchee and sent embers flying more than a mile to ignite industrial properties between North Wenatchee and Walla Walla avenues. Damaged were facilities at value="NASDAQ-NMS:BLBD" idsrc="xmltag.org">Blue Bird, 1470 Walla Walla Ave., along with value="ACORN:2522045017" idsrc="xmltag.org">Northwest Wholesale, Inc., Michelsen Packaging Company, and value="ACORN:1536308963" idsrc="xmltag.org">Stemilt Growers. Total damage estimates from company execs and fire officials have ranged from $60 to $100 million.

value="NASDAQ-NMS:BLBD" idsrc="xmltag.org">Blue Bird, based in value="LU/us.wa.pestin" idsrc="xmltag.org">Peshastin, was the first to reveal its rebuilding plans; other businesses affected by the fire are still working with insurance companies to assess how to move forward.

In the fire, value="NASDAQ-NMS:BLBD" idsrc="xmltag.org">Blue Bird lost millions of dollars in buildings, equipment and product -- including tons of cherries and organic Red Delicious apples and a new $8 million electronic cherry-sorting line that began operating just 30 days before the blaze.

At the time, General Manager Ron Gonsalves pointed out that more than 100,000 square feet of controlled-atmosphere storage, bin storage rooms and fruit-packing facilities escaped the fire with only minor damage. In all, the remaining buildings are valued at around $15 million, he said, "and rebuilding elsewhere would require rebuilding these facilities at the new site."

Wenatchee City Council members took a look at fire-damaged sites earlier this month as part of a presentation on the possibilities of redeveloping a nearby 7.5-acre parcel owned by the state Department of Transportation. That property at 1551 N. Wenatchee Ave. is scheduled to be vacated and available sometime in 2017.

value="NASDAQ-NMS:BLBD" idsrc="xmltag.org">Blue Bird's value="LU/us.wa.wenhee" idsrc="xmltag.org">Wenatchee operation has an annual payroll of more than $4.5 million, said Gonsalves, with crews sorting, packing and shipping more than $60 million in fruit each year.

Reach Mike Irwin at 509-665-1179 or irwin@wenatcheeworld.com. Read his blog Everyday Business or follow him on Twitter at @MikeIrwinWW.


class="shirttail">(c)2015 The Wenatchee World (Wenatchee, Wash.)

class="shirttail">Visit The Wenatchee World (Wenatchee, Wash.) at www.wenatcheeworld.com

class="shirttail">Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

© Tribune Content Agency, source Regional News

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