Wilder fire officials are still trying to figure out what caused a drier unit in a hop barn to catch fire Sunday night but estimated the loss of hop crop and equipment to be about $2 million.
The shed had multiple drier units and one of those caught fire around 5:15 p.m. Sunday. By the time fire crews arrived, the building was engulfed in flames, so crews had to go into defensive mode to keep the blaze from spreading to nearby structures, Wilder Fire Chief Doug Amick said Monday.
The hop shed was located on Peckham Road. Amick said several hundred bails of hops were lost in the blaze, along with custom hop drying equipment.
If (a farmer) loses a combine, you can always go buy another one. You cant do that with a hop drier. They are all custom built, Amick said.
Amick declined to identify the farmer who lost the building and the crops. He also wasn't sure which brewing company had a contract for the hops.
Hops are the pine-cone like flowers that provide both bitterness and aroma to your favorite beer, especially prominent in craft brew styles like India Pale Ales, porters, and stouts.
Idaho is one of only a handful of states that produce hops, and most of those are grown in the Wilder area.
Hop farming is expensive. Twenty-foot tall trellises have to be built, and the hop vines need to be tied to wires that hang from the top. After the vines grow all summer, special combines are used to remove the vines from the top of the trellises.
The vines then are taken to a sorting facility, where workers load them into a machine that uses metal fingers to remove the hop flowers from the vines. Then the flowers are separated and moved by conveyer belts to massive bins, where they are heated and dried for 10 hours before they are moved again and packed in 200-pound bales.
Sundays fire started in one of the four hop drying units at the Peckham Road facility, Amick said.