(Oct. 15) WAPATO, Wash. — As flames gutted a Yakima Valley produce warehouse, one member of the family-owned Calhoun Fruit & Produce Inc. helped extinguish the fire that totaled the vegetable grower-shipper’s warehouse.

The Oct. 8 fire destroyed the winter squash, pumpkins and ornamental gourds and corn that the company had packed in the morning to ship that afternoon.

The fire, which also leveled the company’s two controlled-atmosphere apple storage rooms, caused the loss of the $1.2 million building and $300,000 in total produce inventory.

TWO HATS

Ryan Calhoun, 25, who works on Calhoun’s farm and helps with maintenance, also serves on the volunteer firefighting squad.

As he returned from lunch, his grandfather, Leonard, 75, Calhoun’s president, told him the warehouse was on fire. Ryan Calhoun ran outside and saw smoke coming out of the building’s back corner.

He then ran to his car, put on his firefighting gear and got ready for the fire trucks to arrive.

“It was different at first,” Ryan Calhoun said. “After a little bit, you kind of put it out of your head, it’s just another fire you’re working. Some of the things you probably wouldn’t do on another fire, you felt like doing on this one. I kept thinking there were things I would like to go in and grab.”

One of those items was a pumpkin face painting machine that was lost in the fire.

CAUSED BY SPARK?

Leonard Calhoun said he and firefighters believe a spark from fall cleaning the company had done that morning, combined with wind, started the fire, which quickly spread to the rest of the warehouse. The company’s offices in an adjoining building were not damaged.

“Everyone was out of the building at lunch,” he said. “There was no way to control the fire.”

Leonard Calhoun said the fire melted support beams in the metal warehouse. Firefighters didn’t feel it was safe to enter the building, which collapsed.

Neighboring Pacific Marketing International Inc., Yakima, offered to store items for the Calhouns. A local trucking company provided trailers for product storage, Leonard Calhoun said.

“Since everything we had in the building burned, we had to reharvest everything,” he said. “Everyone just pitched in and got the job done.”

Calhoun has lost the income from the fall apple storage, which would have filled coolers Oct. 20.

The company, which is covered by insurance, plans to rebuild, Leonard Calhoun said. That construction, however, won’t start until spring’s more favorable temperatures.