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Fire at Hunts Point damages Mendez International Tropical Foods facility

A Nov. 20 fire at the Hunts Point market in the Bronx, NY, began at Mendez International Tropical Foods Inc., which occupies units 158 through 162 in Row A of the market.

The fire broke out shortly after 11 a.m. and quickly escalated into a four-alarm blaze.

The first alarm reached firefighters at 11:15. They had to force their way into the building due to a steel beam that blocked their path to the source of the blaze, ultimately causing them to retreat to their fire ladders to fight the flames.

The fire also spread to the second floor administration offices of Mendez International. At 12:40 p.m. the fire escalated to a four-alarm fire because of the highly flammable contents of the building, including cardboard and wooden crates used for produce. Ultimately, nearly 200 firefighters and 40 department units responded to the fire, which was brought under control after about two hours.

No one employed at Hunts Point Terminal Market was reported injured. Initial news reports stated that 12 firefighters were injured and hospitalized, but throughout the evening and during the night those figures were adjusted with the fire department reporting that nine firefighters were injured and hospitalized, with one suffering potentially serious respiratory issues.

Several delivery and pick-up truck drivers noted to reporters on the scene that they had no choice but to sit in their trucks for four hours or longer before they could proceed with their business.

Charlie DiMaggio, president of FresCo, which occupies units 258 and 259 of Row B of the terminal market, said it was a frightening situation for a good part of the day.

In the early morning hours of Nov. 21, he told The Produce News that there was a lot of sketchy hearsay still spreading around the terminal market, but word was out that the fire was started by a welder who was working in the rear portion of the Mendez facility.

"We're very sorry, of course, that some firefighters were injured, but we're very grateful that no one was more seriously injured or killed."

M&R Tomato Distributors, which is adjacent to Mendez International, suffered no damage from the blaze, according to Denise Goodman, vice president of the company.

"It is business as usual for us, and we are looking forward to a busy Thanksgiving week," she told The Produce News.