Fire chief: Burned Gustine creamery likely to be torn down

vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.February 18, 2014 

— A shuttered Gustine creamery plant that sustained major damage from a fire Sunday will probably need to be torn down, according to Gustine Fire Chief Pat Borrelli.

Borrelli said more than 50 percent of the 240 North Avenue plant burned in the blaze, which was reported at 7:05 a.m. Sunday and not controlled by firefighters until after 5 p.m. Monday.

The cause of the fire hasn’t been determined.

Although firefighters haven’t released a damage estimate, the 100,000 square-foot plant was valued at around $5.5 million.

The last company to occupy the building, which has been closed since 2005, was Land O’Lakes.

Built in 1934, the plant was operated by Beatrice Foods for several years before its sale in 2000, according to Merced County fire Battalion Chief Jeremy Rahn.

No injuries were reported in the fire, although firefighters had to evacuate around 25 residences because of the heavy smoke.

According to Gustine Mayor Dennis Brazil, the plant employed around 150 people when it was operational.

Brazil said the building’s current owner resides in Denver, and the structure has been a frequent target of burglars, particularly copper thieves.

Brazil said the thefts alone have caused around $1 million in damage to the building, with thieves taking control panels, wiring and other items from the aging structure.

Brazil said power to the building had been turned off before Sunday’s fire.

Sun-Star City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.

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