Crime

Fire at Healthy Pet plant in Ferndale could cost ‘millions’

Cargo bay doors sit open to air out smoke as crews work to clean up damage after a fire at Healthy Pet on Wednesday, Nov. 4, in Ferndale, Wash.
Cargo bay doors sit open to air out smoke as crews work to clean up damage after a fire at Healthy Pet on Wednesday, Nov. 4, in Ferndale, Wash. The Bellingham Herald

An industrial fire damaged more than $1 million in inventory late Tuesday, Nov. 3, at a Ferndale plant that makes cat litter and other absorption products.

Employees at Healthy Pet were working in the main 60,000-square-foot warehouse around 10:45 p.m. when a night supervisor saw smoke and small flames in the plant’s main warehouse, said Ted Mischaikov, the company’s CEO.

The building was evacuated, and no one was hurt.

Healthy Pet processes natural cat and small animal litter in the warehouse at 6960 Salashan Parkway.

Firefighters struggled to reach the center of the warehouse, where flames smoldered in 15-foot-tall pallets of cellulose and wood fibers, said Dean Crosswhite, a division chief of training at Whatcom County Fire District 7.

An effective sprinkler system bought firefighters some time but soaked everything in the main warehouse. Firefighters kept their distance as the water-logged stacks of absorptive fibers grew unstable and threatened to topple over, Crosswhite said.

“You start spraying water on them, and those 500 pound pallets become 2000 pounds,” he said.

More fire engines from the North Whatcom and Lynden fire departments were called in to help. Using infrared cameras firefighters found the burning material took up about 4800 square feet of floor space near the center of the warehouse. After about two hours, around 1 a.m., the fire looked to be under control, but nowhere near out.

For the next eight hours Crosswhite and his crew worked to extinguish the creeping fire. Another crew arrived later in the morning and stayed until about 11 a.m.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

In the end the plant and its machinery took little to no fire damage. At least $1 million in inventory was ruined, however, Mischaikov said.

“The damage will likely be in the millions, but I don’t want to sound alarmist,” he added.

Workers used forklifts to clean charred debris from the factory floor throughout Wednesday. Mischaikov expected the plant could be running again in 72 hours.

Healthy Pet employs a total of about 120 people. Seventy or so of those employees work at the Ferndale plant, Mischaikov said.

The business was known as Absorption Corp. when the German firm J. Rettenmaier & Söhne bought it in 2013. Last year the company changed names to Healthy Pet, to reflect the company’s main focus, pet products. Some industrial absorption materials still are made at the Ferndale plant.

On Wednesday, Mischaikov stressed his company’s strong safety record. Healthy Pet received a safety award from the state Department of Labor & Industries in January, after going more than 1,300 days without a serious workplace injury.

Reach Caleb Hutton at 360-715-2276 or caleb.hutton@bellinghamherald.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bhamcaleb.

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