Photo from the Yakima (WA) Fire Department / Courtesy Captain Alex Langbell
In October of 2006, an unexpected fire occurred at the S.S. Steiner warehouse in Washington State.
Thankfully, there was no one inside the building when the fire took place. The Yakima warehouse was a major contributor to the nation ‘s hop supply, distributing their product to breweries across the country. This incident resulted in between $3.5 to 4 million in damage on an already estimated low market for that year. Approximately four percent of the nation’s yield on hops was lost in the fire.
This industrial fire is believed to have occurred because of spontaneous combustion caused by heat buildup due to improper moisture levels i n the bales. The buildup, combined with excess resin or oils, can create an ideal environment for a fire. According to Tom Redfield, a warehouse manager for Hopunion, the workers had participated in fire drills previously to prepare for this type of situation. It is also standard procedure for the employees to check the bales for moisture before storing it in their warehouses.
The Yakima (WA) Fire Department is no stranger to such fires. Firefighters have responded to previous hops fires in warehouses, such as the 1999 fire depicted in the photo above. Training Captain Alex Langbell commented that crews had to use backhoes to overhaul that fire.
Nevertheless, the 2006 incident caused professionals in the hop industry to reevaluate their procedures and verify a safer and more efficient method to harvest, process, and store hops without fear of an unsafe environment.