HERMISTON, Ore. — Shearer's Foods has announced it will lay off staff from the company's Eastern Oregon manufacturing facility near Hermiston that burned down on the afternoon of Feb. 22.
"After assessing the damage, it’s clear that the destruction is too great to quickly rebuild and begin production in the near term," CEO Bill Nictakis said in a press release.
The fire at the facility began with an explosion in a boiler fueled by natural gas, engulfing much of the building in flames and prompting closures of nearby roads and rail tracks as firefighters fought to bring the blaze under control. Six people were reportedly injured, all of whom were treated at a hospital and released.
The company has not yet decided the future of the Hermiston site, Nictakis said, but estimated it would take at least 15-18 months to rebuild and restart production, which prompted the decision to lay off the staff.
The news comes as an unfortunate confirmation for plant employees, some of whom spoke to KGW after the fire and said they feared for the future of their jobs, based on initial communication from the company.
"They're throwing us out there in the cold," employee Cory Harris said a couple days after the fire. "They don't want to help us. They want to throw us out there and get rid of us."
The press release did not specify how many employees will be laid off, but the plant was one of the area's biggest employers, according to Hermiston city manager Byron Smith, providing about one out of every thirty jobs.
One of the employees who spoke to KGW said there would be "over 400 of us" looking for jobs if the plant shut down.
Shearer's is looking for places to relocate team members who are interested in working in other company plants. The laid off employees will also receive severance and a "benefits continuation package," Nictakis said.
The company is working with community organizations to plan food drives, job fairs and other activities to benefit the staff, he added, and will provide counseling services to those affected by the fire.
Shearer's is headquartered in Ohio and manufactures snack food products such as potato chips and popcorn. The Oregon facility is one of 11 production facilities that the company operates throughout the United States and Canada, according to its website.
Editor's note: the video in the media player above originally aired on Feb. 23.