Fire Breaks Out at Iowa Turkey Plant

Flames broke out in a turkey processing plant closed for renovation, bringing out firefighters from nearby Wisconsin and forcing holiday traffic from two highways to be rerouted, authorities said.


POSTVILLE, Iowa (AP) -- Flames broke out in a turkey processing plant closed for renovation, bringing out firefighters from nearby Wisconsin and forcing holiday traffic from two highways to be rerouted, authorities said.

The fire at Iowa Turkey Products started about 12:30 p.m. Saturday and took much of the afternoon to bring under control, officials said. Small flare-ups were still occurring early Sunday.

Fire departments from about two dozen communities in northeast Iowa and southwest Wisconsin responded to the call. Postville is in the northeast corner of Iowa, about 25 miles from the Wisconsin border.

A hazardous materials crew from La Crosse, Wis., monitored chemicals stored at the plant, police said.

Authorities blocked off the main roadways into this town of 2,300 and rerouted traffic from U.S. Highways 18 and 52 until early evening.

Flames shot 40 feet in the air and the damage to the two-story building was extensive, said Milo Sebastian, Postville fire chief.

``The whole plant's gone,'' Sebastian said.

Plant officials planned to review the damage over the weekend, said Dennis Brechler, Iowa Turkey Products' vice president of sales.

Forest Kelly, 75, lives five blocks east of the plant and watched it burn. Some of the brick walls caved in and smoke billowed from the business throughout the afternoon, he said.

``I'm afraid it's gone,'' said Kelly, who has two sons who have worked at the plant.

The plant employs about 300 people to process raw turkey products such as sausage and ground meat, said Gretta Irwin, executive director of the Iowa Turkey Federation. Some of the products are sold under the Turkey Valley Farm label, she said.

The plant closed Thursday for two weeks of renovation, including the addition of new equipment. No turkeys were being housed there at the time of the fire, Irwin said.

A handful of farmers from Iowa and Minnesota own the plant, she said.

``It's such a shame because it is one of the last truly grower-owned facilities in the United States,'' Irwin said. ``It just had really unique farmer-owned, farmer-raised process.''