Fire badly damages Hastings potato plant

Published On: May 11 2013 09:13:20 AM EDT
Updated On: May 11 2013 08:57:57 PM EDT

A fire broke out at a potato processing plant early Saturday morning in Hastings.  Several buildings collapsed during firefighting efforts.

HASTINGS, Fla. -

A fire badly damaged a potato processing plant early Saturday morning in Hastings.

St. Johns County Fire Rescue and the Putnam County Fire Department responded to an industrial fire around 3:15 a.m. at Middleton Farms, located in the 300 block of East St. Johns Avenue.

Upon arrival, crews found multiple warehouse structures engulfed in flames.

IMAGES:  Predawn fire destroys potato plant

No one was inside and hazardous materials were not stored in the buildings.

Multiple fire engines and tankers responded to the scene and fought the fire for approximately four hours.  Several buildings collapsed during the firefighting efforts.

The fire was under control at 8:15 a.m., but crews were going to remain on scene for several hours completing salvage, overhaul and mop-up operations.

There were no injuries reported during this incident, and the cause of the fire will be under investigation by SJCFR and the State Fire Marshal's Office.

The owner of the building, Leighton Middleton, said the damage was probably more than $500,000. This is the second unfortunate event for him this week. On Saturday, his barn in Elkton was destroyed by what the National Weather Service calls an EF0 tornado.

"It's been a very tough week," said Middleton. "We're trying to get through it. It has been a rough 10-day stretch. Let's say 7 days."

Middleton said his employees' jobs were safe, even though the facility has severe damage.

"Drastic weather issues last Saturday night at the main farm in Elkton," said Middleton. "Tornado damage, wind damage had been documented there earlier in the week and now to have this particular facility burn down last night, it's just been a rough week for the Middleton family."

Middleton said everything was taken seriously in the area because it's been a stressful week for the family and the community.

"You lose use of your facility, but luckily this facility here, the main structure, is still in tack so everything that was burned down was storage," said Middleton. "So you know, it's drastic, but not bad enough."

Middleton said their losses include their various pieces of packing equipment, bags they put potatoes in, a fork lift, baggers, sewing machines, various electric motors and gear boxes, and a cooler, which he said was very expensive.

"Right now, we are still harvesting potatoes and that's where we go," he said. "It's potatoes season in Hastings, and crops come first and everything else comes second."

Middleton said he is sure in this community that when they need help, they all stick together and do what they need to do to help each other out.

"I wish this bad luck would leave me alone and move on down the road somewhere, but no back luck on anyone else either. Just leave me alone," said Middleton.

The Middletons said they do have insurance for both buildings.

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