HERMISTON, Ore. — Communities in eastern Oregon are wondering what the future holds after one of the region's largest employers suffered a warehouse explosion this week.
Umatilla County Fire District #1 crews have braved more than a day of sub-freezing temperatures, battling flames at Shearer's Foods Plant, just south of Hermiston.
"Shaken up about it," said Cory Harris, a warehouse worker who has been with the company for 16 years. "We're like a big family."
Harris was not at work when the explosion occurred, but is feeling the impact and uncertainty.
"Shearer's changed a lot in people's lives, gave them jobs, opportunities to grow," Harris explained.
Fire investigators believe a portable boiler powered by natural gas exploded, leading to the massive fire that destroyed the Shearer's warehouse.
The fire district said at least six people went to the hospital Tuesday, and a statement from the Shearer's company Wednesday said everyone who received treatment had been released.
"We are grateful that all Shearer’s team members are safe," wrote Joline Manning, chief human resources officer for Shearer's. "We appreciate the understanding of our neighbors in Hermiston who were impacted as a result of the fire and the outpouring of support that has been extended to our Shearer’s family."
"It's a big shock," Hermiston city manager Byron Smith added.
Smith said the city is working with Shearer's, providing space in town for company leaders to connect with employees while everyone works through what's next.
"They have a team on the ground out here to assess the damage to see what, if any, of the plant can be salvaged," Smith said. "I see this as a way for the community to get stronger."
Smith explained that the food plant employs hundreds of people, accounting for one in thirty jobs within the Hermiston zip code.
"Really getting teary eyed thinking about what happened. Just so sad seeing that happen," Harris said. "Now where do we turn? Where do we go?"