Nearly 5.5 million kilograms of frozen vegetables destroyed by fire

BonduelleFireThe fact that nearly 5.5 million kilograms — or 12 million pounds — of frozen vegetables and unpacked goods were destroyed in the fire could make for a tighter pea market.

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Bonduelle CEO Daniel Vielfaure says the company will rebuild its heavily damaged food-processing plant in Tecumseh, Ont. — if part of the plant is salvageable. Vielfaure flew in from Quebec and made the announcement at a news conference Friday.

Bonduelle’s fruit and vegetable processing facility in Tecumseh, east of Windsor, caught fire at 2 a.m. ET Friday.

Vielfaure said 200 current employees and another 450 seasonal employees will be affected. He also said $21 million worth of crops in fields still need picking. Vielfaure said firefighters told him the production side of the plant, including the labelling division, has been saved.

Nearly 5.5 million kilograms — or 12 million pounds — of frozen vegetables and unpacked goods were destroyed in the fire.

Farmers are already diverting peas to other Bonduelle plants in Ontario in an effort to harvest and produce as much as possible. The company has seven plants in Canada, including two in Ontario. If the crops can’t be processed, Bonduelle will still pay for the farmers’ crops.

The plant was originally owned by Green Giant, and has changed many hands since Bonduelle took it over.

The plant employs up to 700 people during peak production and is worth $40 million annually to the town. Another 450 farming families across Ontario supply the plant with fruits and vegetables. It is currently processing peas, but also processes carrots, corn, rice and meal packs.

The fire, which caused a small ammonia leak at the plant, led to the mayor calling a local state of emergency. There was also a mandatory evacuation of about 1,300 homes within a one-kilometre radius of the plant. The evacuation order and local state of emergency were lifted at 1 p.m. ET Friday.

Mayor McNamara was concerned about the more than 2,250 kilograms (5,000 pounds) of ammonia on site. There was a leak, but Tecumseh Fire Rescue Service said it was contained. Air monitoring is underway at the plant and will continue throughout the day, the Tecumseh Fire Department said. Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment is monitoring water runoff, and Windsor Fire and Rescue’s hazardous material team is monitoring air quality from seven spots.

Even though workers, including Gabrielle Blanchette, were in the factory at the time of the fire, no injuries were reported.

Fire officials said the roof collapsed one hour into fighting the fire. Damage is extensive.

McNamara said more than 200,000 square feet, including the dry goods warehouse and freezer area, are affected by the fire, which according to fire officials appears to have started in the freezer section of the plant.

They initially thought the cause was linked to the electrical system, but now they’re not certain about that.

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