Inferno Burns at Calif. Apple Juice Warehouse


More than 24 hours after a massive fire ripped through a warehouse storing Martinelli’s apple juice, flames still roared out the roof and thick black smoke billowed over Watsonville Thursday evening.

Two fire ladder hoses were raised high above the roof and shot powerful streams of water at 700 gallons per minute on the blaze at 860 W. Beach St.

The massive 4-alarm fire first broke out at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday inside a cold storage facility housing thousands of plastic bottles filled with Martinelli’s famous golden apple juice.

All six employees escaped without injuries.

PHOTOS: Watsonville fire destroys Martinelli’s juice

The fire is a heavy blow to Martinelli’s apple company, which lost an estimated $2 million worth of apple juice and 6,000 bins of fresh apples.

"We have no more apples this season to make more juice," Martinelli’s President John Martinelli said. “We only use fresh apples, and there is no way to replace that fruit. Our area has the best apples in the world.”

Workers were able to save $2 million worth of products.

Firefighters battled the inferno through Wednesday night, Thursday morning, and late into Thursday evening. Still, the fire blazed on.

Watsonville Fire Chief Mark Bisbee said the fire could take up to four days to fully extinguish.

Firefighters have not determined what ignited the fire.

The historic building was built in 1928 out of highly flammable materials.

To keep the entire building refrigerated, the cold storage warehouse's wood and tar paper walls are 18 inches thick for insulation, firefighters said. Further fuel was provided by cardboard and plastic used to package all of the apple juice bottles.

A fire strike team had a tough time fighting the flames because the building only has one door and no windows for firefighters to blindly spray water through, firefighters said.

“We started off trying to make interior attacks, but it was too far into the building,” Bisbee said. Firefighters had "complete zero-visibility," inside the warehouse, he said.

“The smoke was so dark, when you put your hand in front of your face, you couldn’t see your hand,” a firefighter on the scene said.

On Wednesday night, police alerted Watsonville residents of a possible ammonia leak at the burning building owned by Apple Growers Ice and Cold Storage. Police issued 28,000 Reverse 911 calls to homes in a three-mile radius surrounding the burning building.

Emergency officials were able to shut down a ceiling pipe and suck ammonia gas out, eliminating the toxic threat.

Thursday afternoon, several residents stood less than 100 feet away to watch the impressive inferno despite air quality hazards.

David Magama, 20, who lives a couple blocks away from the warehouse, skateboarded over to watch the fire from railroad tracks. "It's way worse today; the smoke looks a lot more thick," he said Thursday afternoon.

Magama said he did not have trouble breathing even after watching the fire up close

Health officials are monitoring Watsonville's air quality and advised residents with breathing conditions such as asthma to stay inside.

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