MARICOPA, Ariz. — A massive fire burned 40,000 pounds of food meant to feed people in a food desert near Maricopa on Monday.
The Thunderbird Fire District said they responded to the Maricopa Food Pantry storage area west of State Route 347 and Papago Road shortly after noon to reports of two refrigerated semis on fire.
“We had just finished with the food bank,” said Jim Shoaf, CEO of the non-profit. “We were shutting down putting stuff away, I had only been gone about 20 minutes when I got the call that underneath one of our trailers was on fire.”
A total of six semis filled with food, including a freezer unit with 18,000 pounds of meat, and a 40-foot truck with stored equipment, were destroyed.
Four fire departments arrived on scene, but the flames were too intense.
“Every trailer that was here was getting ready for this weekend,” said Shoaf referring to their Saturday’s pantry distribution. “Everything was loaded with diesel, and once the fire started, it was just not able to put it out.”
The blaze was fueled by strong winds. The Mountain View Community Church, which sits feet away from where the semis were parked, was not damaged.
“We had cans popping because of all stuff we had inside the semis, things were blowing up and it just kept spreading,” Shoad added.
Propane tanks used to run the forklifts the non-profit used to organize and move pallets of food were blown off out of the carts, the CEO said.
Those tanks landed under a shed that shaded pallets, boxes, and tables used during the distributions. They were all reduced to ashes.
A preliminary investigation suggests the fire started after an animal went under one of the refrigerated trucks and got into the wires, the fire department said.
Despite the tragic loss, Shoaf said he is going to rebuild.
He is looking to sell the steel left from the burned refrigerated semis and invest that money to rebuild. The plan is to build a warehouse for the pantry, a clothing bank and soup kitchen, he said.
“We lost almost everything, but we still have something to go forward to,” Shoaf said. “If we didn’t have anything, we still have the people that have a need, so we’re going to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and we’re going to move on.”
Maricopa Pantry serves an average of 1,200 families a week. In 2021, it distributed 3.4 million pounds of food in the area, Shoaf said.
He hopes to distribute food again “within the next few weeks.”