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Gridley Herald

SunWest Burns

Oct 20, 2023 12:20PM ● By Seti Long

Dark smoke billowed from the top of SunWest Millings silos Tuesday afternoon. Photo by Seti Long

BIGGS, CA (MPG) - Black smoke filled the afternoon skies above Biggs earlier this week as one of the towering mills in the community caught ablaze.

At 2:22 pm on Tuesday, October 17th, reports began to come in of a fire at SunWest Millings rice mill in Biggs. Witnesses report hearing a loud bang before large clouds of smoke started to emerge from the top of the 8-story structure.

The mill was promptly evacuated, and all employees accounted for with no injuries reported. 

CalFire/Butte County units from Biggs and Gridley were immediately dispatched to the Bannock St. address, along with backup support from surrounding municipalities and counties. City of Biggs staff responded to aid mill employees and first responders as needed, securing the perimeter. City officials expressed concern as SunWest is among the largest employers in the City of Biggs, but also one of the largest commercial structures in the area and the fire occurred during peak harvest season.

CalFire crews and Butte County Sheriff’s Department responded to a fire at SunWests mill in Biggs. Crews surround the towering building as they attack the fire within. Photo by Seti Long

CalFire/Butte County/Gridley’s ladder truck 74 was joined by Yuba City Fire Department’s ladder truck 3 and units from Biggs, Oroville, Live Oak, Yuba City, and Sutter County Fire to surround the towering storage silos and attack the fire from the top. CalFire Police, Butte County Sheriff's Department and EMS were onsite to support crews as they assessed the situation.

The sheer size and layout of the building posed a serious danger to first responders and fire crews. The potential collapse of the building had to be taken into account as crews formed their plan of attack and efforts were made to preserve the processed rice crop stored inside the silos.

Ladder truck 3 positioned itself on the western side of the building with ladder truck 74 ready to begin aerial operations from the south. Fire crews made their way inside at ground level, reporting to incident command that the fire appeared to be on the first floor and basement levels of the building. Smoke was believed to be funneling up a shaft in the building and escaping from the upper levels while fire burned actively below ground.

Fire crews used water strategically to attack the fire by funneling water in through top story windows at the north and west sides of the building as firemen worked to put out flames on the lower levels.

The incident was named the Rice Fire, with CalFire reporting that 9 companies, 2 water trucks, 3 volunteer companies, and a total of 31 personnel responding.

It is believed that the fire started on the north end of the older part of the building at the rice storage silos. CalFire reports that the cause of the fire is under investigation. The extent of the damage to the building is unknown at this time, but all efforts were made to protect staff, property, and rice produced at the location. 

Powerful blasts of water are funneled into the mill through top-story windows in an effort to suppress flames burning stories below. Photo by Seti Long