Flames consume a shed at Knouse Orchards early Saturday morning.
QUINCY - The Saturday blaze at Knouse Orchards on Mentzer Gap Road has been ruled an arson, and officials think it could be a hate crime.
“This is just a theory, but I think they could be targeting the migrant workers,” said Trooper Jeff Sarver, fire marshal with Pennsylvania State Police in Chambersburg. “In another incident around the same time last year, arsonists targeted a building (at Knouse Orchards) where the migrants would sleep.”
Trooper Pat McKenna, the fire marshal in York County, ruled Saturday morning's blaze at Knouse was intentionally set, but Sarver said there are no suspects at this time.
The blaze that began at 2:22 a.m. destroyed a barn that contained wooden crates and orchard equipment. The damage was estimated at $130,000.
“It was (likely) a person passing by (who set the fire), and it was probably lit with matches or a lighter. There was no indication of any gasoline used,” McKenna added.
Sarver said the people who set the fire at the same time last year have not been caught, and he believes they may be responsible for the latest blaze.
“A newer model red truck and three people - a heavy-set white woman and two men - were seen fleeing from the area (Saturday),” he added. “It's just coincidental that the fire occurred in the same place and around the same time two years in a row.”
Sarver said the shed that was destroyed was close to a housing unit the migrant workers use. He said the workers are currently in Florida preparing to come back for the apple-picking season, which runs from the middle of August to October.
Anyone with information about the fire is asked to call Sarver at 264-5161. He said the report will likely be filed with Franklin County Crime Stoppers, and a reward leading to the conviction and arrest of the suspects will be offered.
Sarver said there have been four fires at Knouse Orchards in the last year. The two were considered arson-related. In July 2006, Sarver said a garage or storage facility for apples was set on fire with some flares. Sometime in 2007, the sleeping quarters for the migrants was set on fire. Sarver did not have the date or details on the 2007 fire.
Milton Knouse, production manager for the Franklin County division of Knouse Fruitlands Inc., could not be reached for comment this morning.
Nancy Runyan with Fruitbelt Farmworker Christian Ministry based in Gardners said many similar incidents go unreported, and many may think racial and ethnic hate crimes don't occur in this country these days.
“You don't necessarily notice it unless you experience it,” she added. “If you're white, you don't have to deal with it.”
She said the Hispanic population in Adams County has received ill-treatment from many residents. She said she does not know how they have been treated in Franklin County.
“We left Adams County about five years ago because it was so bad,” she said. “I used to work in the schools there, and people there were very prejudiced toward Mexicans.”
“Our house was egged because we worked with the migrants,” she added. “We also adopted two little black boys, and our house was egged every weekend. It was horrible.”
Runyan and her husband, Pastor Roddy Runyan, visit the migrant camps in Franklin, Adams and Cumberland counties and “help them (the workers) with whatever they need.”
She said they provide the workers with sweatshirts, toiletries, blankets, Bible studies and translation at doctor appointments, among other needs.
There are currently 100 migrant farm labor camps in Adams County and only 12 remaining in Franklin County. Four of them are in the Waynesboro area - two on Buttermilk Road, one on Hess Benedict Road and the Knouse Orchard on Mentzer Gap Road in Quincy Township. Pastor Roddy Runyan said the Knouse Orchard is the largest migrant camp in the Waynesboro area. It employs 45 migrants.
The other farm labor camps in Franklin County are located on Letterkenny Road and Scotland Road in Chambersburg, Mountainbrook Road in St. Thomas, Mount Rock Road in Shippensburg and Tanyard Hill Road in Orrstown.
In 2004, the FBI reported that 53.8 percent of hate crimes in the U.S. were race-related. According to the report, 51.5 percent of then were committed by people with anti-Hispanic views.
Pennsylvania reported 105 hate crimes in 2004, according to the FBI's report.
Trooper Ed Asbury of Pennsylvania State Police did not return phone calls about Franklin County hate crime statistics.
A 2003 census showed that 1.8 percent of Franklin County's population is Hispanic. Adams County listed a 3.6 percent Hispanic population in 2003. Nancy Runyan said during the height of apple picking, between 7,000 and 10,000 migrant workers flock to Adams, Franklin and Cumberland counties for work. She said most come from Mexico, while others hail from Texas, Haiti and Jamaica.