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Fire rips through rural Keyes poultry facility
Keyes fire
A Thursday fire broke out at an egg processing plant west of Keyes. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Strong winds helped fan the flames on a major fire that consumed a west Keyes agriculture industrial building used to house egg laying chickens Thursday afternoon.

Ceres Fire Chief Ken Wise said he heard the possibility that upwards of 500,000 chickens had perished in the fire at the Gemperle egg operation.

“Poor things. A few were running around burnt and the workers were trying to catch them,” said Wise who described the metal building as a fully contained and automated three-level chicken house. He called the fire a devastating loss for the company with preliminary estimates of chickens and building at roughly $6 million.

Calls to the Turlock based company went unanswered on Thursday.

Multiple fire agencies including Ceres, Keyes, Hughson, Turlock and Modesto, responded to the fire which broke at 12:59 p.m. on Bystrum Road south of Bronco Winery and east of Crows Landing Road. Flames broke out in the northern most of two buildings, sending up a large plume of smoke visible between Modesto and Delhi.

“The building was completely involved when I arrived,” said Ceres Fire Battalion Chief Jeff Serpa, “so anything that was inside is going to perish.”

“There is a multi-county effort to get this thing contained,” said Serpa at mid Thursday afternoon. He said efforts were underway to protect a similar sized warehouse just south of the one on fire.

The cause of the fire inside the large metal warehouse, which is several stories high with a footprint of about 200-feet by 400-feet, was possibly electric related.

Complicating fire suppression was an initial lack of adequate water supplies. Serpa said a large-diameter fire hose was stretched an estimated 1,500 feet from Bronco Winery’s hydrant to a Ceres Fire engine. An on-site hydrant system fed the Ceres aerial ladder truck. Eight water tenders were busy shuttling water to fire engines on the site.

Serpa said 11 Type 1 engines were on scene, eight water tenders and ladder trucks from Ceres and Turlock fire departments. Other agencies dispatching firefighters and apparatus were Hughson, Keyes, Denair, Ceres, Westport, Burbank, Woodland Avenue, Newman, Patterson, Salida, Mountain View, Turlock Rural and City. Two tenders were dispatched from Merced County.

The fire touched off several small spot fires in fields that had to be contained, Serpa noted.

Information will be updated as it becomes available.