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Washington Potato lays off 62 workers at Warden facility

The Washington Potato Co. facility in Warden still smolders the next morning and smoke fills the air after a fire broke out in a potato dehydrator the afternoon of Jan. 21, prompting a response from fire departments across Grant and neighboring Adams counties.

Pasco-based Oregon Potato Company announced Friday it was permanently laying off 62 employees at Warden-based Washington Potato Company, which caught fire in late January.

The layoff notice was posted on the Washington State Employment Security Department and was effective as of Friday, Feb. 5.

No other details were given, and the company said: “no comment” in response to a request for further information.

Washington Potato was destroyed by fire, which began the evening of Jan. 21, and burned all night. Firefighters from multiple agencies in Grant and Adams counties responded to the fire, which smoldered for several days.

The fire is believed to have started in a large potato dehydrating drum. The facility produced dried potato flakes used to makes instant mashed potatoes, as well as dried potato slices and chunks used in soups and other instant potato products.

Emily Anderson, a training manager and rapid response coordinator at SkillSource, said about 75 employees participated the following Thursday and Friday in Employment Security Department's and SkillSource’s organized efforts to help displaced Washington Potato employees apply for unemployment and look at options for future work.

Emily Anderson, a training manager and rapid response coordinator at SkillSource:
 
“Most came in person and got information on unemployment and retraining, ESL classes, mortgage assistance.”
According to Jenna McCaffery, the human resources manager with Best Human Resource Solutions — a company that provided temporary workers to Washington Potato — about 90 of the workers at the facility at the time of the fire were temporary employees.

Under federal law, companies must give 60 days advance notice of plant closures or layoffs. However, Anderson said the law contains exemptions for disasters like the fire that gutted Washington Potato.

Emily Anderson:
 
“This was out of their control.”
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