Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

November 5, 2013

Pecan processing plant damaged

Up to $1 million in damage to Shiloh Farm facility

RAY CITY — A local pecan farm is calculating losses and determining how to move forward after a fire caused extensive damage at its processing plant.

Sometime between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. Sunday, a fire started in the pecan dryer bins at Shiloh Farm’s processing plant on Possum Creek Road in Ray City.

“We had set the dryers and left a little after 8 p.m. We knew it was going to take about two and a half hours to finish drying, so I went home to eat and shower,” said Buck Paulk of Shiloh Farm.

Paulk believes that, while he was away from the plant, dust particles or some sort of small debris ignited during the drying process and set the pecan bins ablaze. Someone spotted the fire from the road and drove to Paulk’s brother’s house to alert him.

“Pecans burn like peat moss. There was a lot of very black smoke,” said Ashley Paulk with Shiloh Farm. “The Ray City Volunteer Fire Department responded first followed by the New Lois volunteers, the Nashville Fire Department and Lowndes County.”

The collaboration of volunteer firefighters brought the blaze under control and extinguished it in about two hours.

“You couldn’t have asked for a better or more professional job. They did a wonderful job working together,” said Ashley Paulk.

The fire destroyed the plant’s drying bins and damaged conveyor belts. The fire spread to the insulation lining the ceiling and warped some of the metal structural beams directly above the fire. The physical damage caused by direct contact with the fire is extensive, but the damage done by the smoke may hurt the business the most.

Near the drying bins, 370,000 pounds of pecans were waiting to be sold at auction. A large portion had already been sold and are scheduled to ship overseas Wednesday.

“The crop appears to be okay, but the buyers are going to have to agree,” said Buck Paulk. “It’s about a million dollars worth of crop. If it winds up being

 unusable, it’s really going to hurt.”

Pecans are still being picked and Paulk estimates that half of their crop is still left in the field, but without a processing plant he will have to rely on the kindness of neighboring farms in Ray City and Clyattville.

“I’m going to have to go to my friends’ plants, but they’ve got their crops to clean too, so we’re going to have to figure out how to work me in,” said Buck Paulk, “I’m going to have to rely on friends, which is what I’m doing now.”

It is too soon for definite plans, but Paulk expects that he will have to dismantle the entire plant and rebuild it to be ready for next year’s harvest.

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