7 Injured in Explosion as Fire Engulfs Food Plant; Smoke Visible for Miles

Multiple workers are hospitalized following an explosion at a food processing facility that has nearby residents on alert for possible evacuation.

The explosion occurred Tuesday evening at Shearer's Foods in Hermiston, a city in agriculturally rich eastern Oregon. No deaths have been reported from the blast, but the extent of the damage to the plant and its future were not clear. City officials are concerned what the fire could mean for the community and local economy.

"It looks like everything is indicating that it is going to be a big loss, and we don't know what the parent company will decide to do," Hermiston City Manager Byron Smith told The Tri-City Herald. "But we know that 400 people roughly worked there, so it will have a big impact on the community."

Medical and fire units as well as law enforcement from multiple jurisdictions arrived at the facility after employees called 911 to report possible injuries from a boiler explosion, according to the Umatilla County Sheriff's Office.

Seven workers who were at the facility during the explosion have been treated at Good Shepherd Health Care System, Caitlin Cozad spokeswoman for the hospital told Northeast Oregon Now. All of the patients are in stable or fair condition, she said.

Newsweek has reached out to the hospital for further comment.

Hermiston Food Facility Explosion
Smoke billowed out of a food manufacturing facility in eastern Oregon Tuesday following an explosion that sent multiple people to the hospital. Courtesy Umatilla County Sheriff's Office

The sheriff's office posted a picture to its Facebook page of a plume of black smoke wafting from the facility.

In response to the blast, Union Pacific Railroad has closed down traffic on its nearby rail line, according to the sheriff's office. The state department of transportation has also closed off a section of nearby Highway 207. Additionally, residents living south of the explosion in an RV park and two hotels have been told to prepare for a possible evacuation because of air-quality issues caused by the smoke plume.

The public has been asked to avoid the area as authorities respond to the ongoing incident.

The population of Hermiston, near the border of Washington state, is about 20,000. Shearer's describes itself on its website as an "award-winning private brand and contract manufacturer" that's capable of making salty snacks, cookies and crackers.

Smith told the Herald that the plant is one of the largest employers in the area. He said the plant supplies much of the Western U.S. with potato chips and corn chips and is the only West Coast location of Shearer's Foods' 12 facilities.

Shearer's first established its presence in Hermiston in 2010 after buying snack food manufacturer Snack Alliance, according to the East Oregonian. With help from tax breaks from the city, Shearer's made several expansions to the facility from 2010 to 2014 valued at more than $30 million.

Newsweek has reached out to Shearer's and the Umatilla County Sheriff's Office for comment.