Fire Wipes Out Apple Harvest At Wis. Orchard

RICHLAND CENTER, Wis. -- A fire destroyed a building at an orchard Sunday night, and fire officials called it one of the most damaging fires in Richland Center's history. The fire broke out at the Oakwood Fruit...


RICHLAND CENTER, Wis. --

A fire destroyed a building at an orchard Sunday night, and fire officials called it one of the most damaging fires in Richland Center's history.

The fire broke out at the Oakwood Fruit Farm at about 9 p.m. on Sunday, according to the Richland Center Fire Department.

"It went from a tiny fire here, to that whole entire 200-foot building (in) less than 3 minutes," said Steve Louis, of Oakwood Fruit Farm.

Fire officials said the building was a total loss.

The fire destroyed 40,000 bushels of apples and several pieces of expensive machinery.

"This year, we finally had a really nice crop," Louis said. "We lost our two coolers that have all of our apples."

The Louis family has owned the farm for five decades.

"It's 106 years of work. You don't know whether you could come back from it," Louis said.

Richland Center Fire Chief Robert Bindl said it's one of the most damaging fires in Richland Center's history.

"Well, dollar-wise, this is probably going to be the largest dollar cost (in the city). This is probably going to cost over $2 million," Bindl said.

As fire officials continue to investigate the cause of the fire, the Louis family said there's no dollar figure that can be put on some of the most important losses.

"We had a lot of memorabilia, a lot of old pictures and photographs. And it was pictures of grandpa, pictures of our family," Louis said.

Customers hoping to buy some fruit found themselves speechless at the remnants of the blaze.

"What the whole family has worked for, for years, to just be destroyed like this. I don't know what to say," said customer Natalie Witte.

"You know, it was shaking out to be one of the best years we were going to have. At this point, we've lost the entire expense of the crop. Those are the things I don't know we'll get back," Louis said.

One firefighter was taken to a hospital by ambulance after exposure to heat and possible dehydration. Officials said he was treated and released.

As far as rebuilding in the short term, the Louis family said multiple engineers and assessors will need to determine a cause and solidify damage estimates before the structure is cleared.

The farm said it lost about $1 million in product. The Louis family has been informing grocers that it won't be able to make deliveries, and the family is expecting a steady stream of out-of-town visitors in the next few weeks.

Trees at the farm weren't damaged by the fire and will be able to produce future crops.

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