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Extensive damage after fire at Underwood Fruit & Warehouse in Columbia River Gorge

Underwood Fruit and Warehouse in Bingen, Wash. caught fire on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. Photo courtesy Mike Goertler

BINGEN, Wash. - A massive fire caused significant damage at Underwood Fruit & Warehouse in Bingen, Wash. Wednesday.

While firefighters made steady progress combating the fire Wednesday, they expected the flames to grow throughout the evening as stronger winds move through.

Klickitat County Emergency Management said firefighters responded to a report of a structure fire around 5:45 a.m.

When firefighters arrived, they found an industrial fire at the Underwood Fruit & Warehouse Co. on the west end of Bingen.

Klickitat Public Utility District says the fire is causing 600 power outages in the area. They say the flames burned a conductor line that serves many homes in Bingen and White Salmon.

There's no estimated time on when power will be restored.

Perched up on a hillside, a handful of people watched as thick black clouds of smoke filled the morning sky. A few employees stood and watched as the fire grew down below them.

"It's awful, I've spent more time here than with our families, working and our friends, our family, everything is down there," said Lavita Wilkes, an employee of the company for 38 years. "It's just devastating, it really is."

Wilkes hugged her friend Kari Abken, who has worked at the warehouse for more than four decades.

Abken says she received a call Wednesday morning alerting her of the fire and telling her there was no need to go in to work. She felt compelled to drive down and see the destruction for herself first hand.

"It's a shock to the system," Abken said. "41 years of your life is going up in flames."

Officials say 11 Klickitat County fire departments responded to the incident.

Firefighters said the fire was so large, they had a hard time bringing in enough water to fight the flames.

Officials asked the public and motorists to avoid the area and the Hood River Bridge while they continue fighting the fire.

Highway 14 remains open, but traffic controls are in place to help keep firefighters and the public safe.

They said everyone made it out of the building safely.

Due to the smoke in the air, White Salmon School District students were kept indoors for resources and after school activities. Residents in the area should expect to see heavy smoke.

White Salmon School District says buses are on road restriction routes in the area. They said the buses will not stop at Dickey farms because of the warehouse fire. They say Dickey farms kids should meet at the Alder/Humbolt stop.

Underwood Fruit & Warehouse Co. was formed in 1917. They farm 90 orchard properties between Mount Adams and Mount Hood.

A fire destroyed the company’s previous warehouse building in 1955. They opened a packing line at the current location three months after that fire.

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