$100,000-plus fire leaves new grocery delivery non-profit homeless

NORTH HURON – A fledgling local grocery delivery service is without a home after a $100,000 fire at its warehouse on Sept. 7.

Crews responded to reports of smoke coming from the ceiling of Eat Local Huron’s single-storey building in Westfield about 10 a.m., the Fire Department of North Huron said.

Deputy Fire Chief Chad Kregar, who led the investigation, determined an electrical issue above the breaker panel caused the fire that spread into the attic.

Kregar estimates the fire caused $100,000 to $120,000 in damages.

“(The fire) damaged the whole attic and roof structure,” Kregar said, adding the smoke destroyed nearly all of the business’s food and equipment.

One firefighter sustained minor injuries, officials said.

The nine-by-30-metre warehouse belonged to Eat Local Huron, an online grocery delivery service linking local producers and consumers across Huron County. The non-profit launched in August.

“We had just started deliveries, and they were going really well,” said Christopher Spaleta, who chairs Eat Local Huron’s board. “Our customers and producers were excited . . . (we) spent months getting this ready. Yesterday was a huge setback.”

Spaleta said the manager was at the warehouse when she saw smoke seeping from the attic.

“She was actually accepting the last of the deliveries for delivery the next day, and she saw smoke coming out of the ceiling,” Spaleta said. “She called 911 and ran and told the people next door.”

Without the warehouse, Spaleta said he doesn’t know how his team will serve clients.

“Right now, it means we can’t do anything,” he said. “We don’t have a warehouse. We don’t have fridges and freezers, so we have to find a new place.”

The Blyth Festival has offered the startup a temporary place to stay while its staff and board seek a new permanent home.

Meantime, Spaleta said, the startup will continue to engage with clients and producers online. He said his team has started a crowdfunding page, too. The page can be found at www.gofundme.com/f/help-eat-local-huron-recover-from-fire.

“The big downside for us is that we put a lot of money and time into setting up the previous warehouse, and none of that is covered by insurance,” Spaleta said.

“We’d really like to get back to selling and delivering local food as soon as possible.”

Calvi Leon is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the London Free Press. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter