Feb. 06--SCHUYLER -- An ammonia leak and fire shut down the Cargill beef-processing plant in Schuyler early Thursday morning.
According to Cargill spokesman Mike Martin, workers detected the ammonia leak around 3:40 a.m. Thursday and immediately took action to evacuate the plant and turn off the gas flow.
About 15 minutes later, Martin said employees noticed smoke and flames coming from an area between the ceiling and roof above the fabrication floor, where beef carcasses are trimmed to smaller cuts.
Martin said the fire was "quickly extinguished" after the Schuyler Volunteer Fire Department was contacted to assist an on-site response team.
The Howells, Clarkson and Columbus Rural fire departments also responded to the scene along with the Colfax County sheriff and emergency manager.
Martin said damage was limited to insulation and a natural gas-fueled cooling and heating unit on the roof that also serves as a dehumidifier. Ammonia is used in the refrigeration process.
Later Thursday, Schuyler Fire Chief Brad Sock there was significant damage to the roof near the cooling and heating unit.
A total of 41 firefighters responded to the scene with the last crew leaving around 3 p.m., according to Sock.
Little to no product was lost because of the incident, which is still under investigation, and nobody was injured, according to Martin.
Because the leak occurred between production shifts, Martin said many of the plant's more than 2,100 employees weren't on-site. However, he said there are typically 200-300 sanitation and maintenance workers at the plant during the overnight shift.
Cargill canceled all production for Thursday at the Schuyler plant, but Martin said the company could decide to add Saturday shifts to make up the lost time. A decision hadn't been made Thursday morning on whether the plant would reopen Friday.
The Schuyler Cargill plant processes more than 5,000 head of cattle daily.
Martin said some customer demand can be met using inventory from a cold storage facility at the site and other Cargill plants may have to increase production.
Cattle deliveries to the Schuyler plant were likely delayed, as well.
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