Fire Claims Legacy Farm Warehouse
An early morning fire destroyed the Dry Branch onion packing facility located on Hub Jarriel Road in Collins on Friday, August 19. The 88,000-square-foot facility housed office space, cold storage, onion drying and packing equipment for the David Jarriel farm. The fire is believed to have started in an onion dryer located in the back of the warehouse, said Tattnall Fire/ EMA Director Walt Rogers. The state fire marshal and insurance investigators were on the scene this week to officially determine the cause and origin of the blaze, as well as the extent of damage.
Ten fire response units from as far way as Dodge County, including 5 prison fire units from the area, responded to the scene at 2:30 a.m. Saturday. The building was fully engulfed when fire crews arrived, and after extinguishing the blaze, crews returned to douse hot spots that continued to flare up through Sunday afternoon, Rogers said.
The fire was fed by thousands of flammable plastic storage containers used in onion production. “We were able to protect a cold storage facility about 10 feet away from the main warehouse,” Rogers said.
The fire was discovered by workers living near the continued from page
warehouse who alerted the owners. “Around 11 p.m. Friday, surveillance equipment had detected a disturbance in the warehouse, but nothing was visible on camera,” Rogers said the owners reported. He said workers nearby apparently heard something “blow up” in the facility, which alerted them to the fire that had already spread throughout the structure.
Dry Branch had some onions in storage and those were lost in the fire. The farm packs 350,000 boxes from 400 acres of onions annually.
'No one was hurt in the fire, just lots of steel, concrete and memories,' said owner David Jarriel, noting that 5 forklifts and millions of dollars worth of processing, storage and packaging equipment were lost. The 10,000 plastic storage crates used to store onions are what propelled the fire quickly through the building. 'The plastic was the catalyst for the fire but they are also the catalyst for production as we had to have these storage bins to operate our facility,' Jarriel observed.
While it is not possible for the facility to be rebuilt and fully operational by April 2023 when the onions are in season, onions in the cold atmosphere storage were saved and these will be sold, Jarriel said.
The family intends to rebuild and continue their legacy of farming into the future. The farm was founded by Jarriel’s great-grandfather Edward Lee Jarriel, who once lived in the house and farmed the surrounding fields during his lifetime from 1871 to 1926.
Now, David Jarriel’s daughters Dixie and Rachel Jarriel are working the same land that their ancestors farmed. “That’s at least five generations of farmers working this land. Men and women have come and gone through the years, but the land has remained the same through the generations — still viable and productive,” David Jarriel said.
In the next edition of Community Living, coming soon, read more about the Jarriel farm and the new generation of female farmers who are continuing their family tradition.