MARICOPA, Ariz.—Maricopa Food Pantry CEO Jim Shoaf said the devastating pantry fire on March 28 couldn’t have come at a worse time of peak demand and concerns over food shortages.
The electrical fire started at noon inside an old battery-powered pallet jack. Six parked trailers and 48,000 pounds of storage food lay in smoldering ruins by sunset.
“Once it went up, it went up,” Shoaf said. “We lost everything but the box truck, two forklifts, and one pallet jack. It just spread from trailer to trailer. Every trailer we had was filled with diesel. I had 600 gallons of diesel on this property.”
The diesel fuel and a propane tank went up in flames.
Shoaf called it a “terrible time” for the nonprofit food pantry at Mountain View Community Church that he and his wife Alice started 20 years ago.
They still plan to expand into a new warehouse which they hope to build on the site, though project funding is now in doubt.
“I was storing up food because I think there will be a food shortage later this year,” Shoaf said. “All our backup burned down.
“We do have some backup. Rather than put $350,000 into semis again, I’m just going to put it into the warehouse. We had about $15,000 in our reserve budget. The insurance companies maxed us out at $46,300.”
Near the pantry’s outer perimeter, a large pile of charred embers, twisted metal, and scorched cans are all that remains of the trailers’ cargo.
Warehouse manager Tim Bennett said the fire spread quickly and out of control—even when doused with a fire extinguisher.
“The fire extinguisher basically wouldn’t cut it. So I ran to the church to get the water [hose]. All I had was a garden hose; I knew I didn’t have much time. We saved the church, the box truck; we saved both fork lifts,” Bennett said.
In the fire’s aftermath, Shoaf and his crew of 40 volunteers picked up the pieces and moved forward with help from various church organizations and other food banks.
A huge boost came from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, which donated 80,000 pounds of food to the pantry.
Each Saturday and Monday, pantry volunteers prepare food packages in an assembly line for nearly 1,200 families in Maricopa and surrounding communities—around 5,000 individuals in total.
The six temperature-controlled trailers served as food storage containers instead of an existing warehouse. Shoaf said the trailers held dry goods and canned foods, fresh beef, pork, and chicken.
“We stored everything in semi-trailers, and then this line is where we made up our baskets for Saturdays and Mondays,” Shoaf told The Epoch Times.
The pantry now operates with three trailers on loan from a nearby church. The pantry continues to be a vital food distribution “hub” for the community amid growing concern over food shortages, he said.
“We give out anywhere from 40,000 to 60,000 pounds of food a week. We give out a lot of food. We lost almost about a week’s worth,” Shoaf said.
Since the fire, there have been conspiracy theories surrounding how the fire started following a rash of fires at critical food industry facilities across the country.
According to news reports, in the first half of 2022, at least 16 major fires broke out at essential food industry plants and warehouses.
In Dufur, Oregon, a fire destroyed Azure Standard’s headquarters on April 19. The company is a leading independent distributor of natural and organic food.
On Feb. 1, thousands fled when an uncontrolled fire at a fertilizer plant in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, caught fire. Another fire recently started at a potato processing plant that employs 175 people in Belfast, Maine.
“There are theories going around here too. Somebody told us that somebody bombed us. We knew it wasn’t true,” Shoaf said.
Shoaf said the new warehouse should solve a few key logistical problems in spite of uncertain project funding.
“We have a little bit of money that has come in, but we still need another $300,000. I don’t see why we should quit at this point. All we can do is start over,” Shoaf said.