Fire damages roaster at Blaine peanut butter plant

BLAINE — A fire at the Golden Nut Company led to thousands of dollars in water damage Wednesday, Dec. 26.

Nobody was hurt in the 11 a.m. peanut butter factory fire. Most of the flames were contained to a roaster about the size of a car.

Water from the sprinkler system flooded the warehouse at 1555 Odell Road, damaging the factory’s stockpile of nuts. It was too soon to pin down an estimated cost of the water damage, said Steve Thiele, plant manager.

“Depends on how deep it got,” he said. A few minutes later, after getting a brief walkthrough with firefighters, Thiele said it looked “pretty bad.”

At that point the water had been flowing for about an hour and firefighters were still assessing the safety of the building.

They sawed through part of the warehouse ceiling to relieve heat and smoke that spread into the vents, said North Whatcom Fire and Rescue Chief Ron Anderson.

The business is across the street from a North Whatcom fire station. The factory roasting room makes it a perennial spot for false fire alarms.

“Nobody was really paying attention until the first (firefighters) looked outside and reported heavy black smoke and explosions,” Anderson said.

About 15 employees were working in the warehouse at the time. Each of them — including the roaster operator who works very close to the fire’s point of origin — escaped unharmed when alarm bells went off.

The oven had been in idle mode, so it should have been warming at about 200 degrees. It’s a conveyor belt oven, akin to the ovens at most pizza restaurants except it roasts peanuts. The nuts are ground into peanut butter after they’re roasted.

No nuts were going through the roaster at the time of the fire. Supervisors weren’t sure what sparked the flames.

“Something did,” Thiele said, “but we’re not sure what and why.”

No obvious damage was visible to the outside of the building. The fire isn’t expected to halt business for too long.

“It’s just going to be a lot of cleaning,” Thiele said, “and a lot of squeegees.”

The last serious fire at the plant was in November 2010. Flames were contained to the roasting oven in that fire, too.