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Fire consumes meatpacking plant

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BAILEY — Firefighters from 11 departments spanning three counties fought a stubborn fire Wednesday at the Custom Quality Packers plant.

Some 75 firefighters from Nash, Wilson and Franklin counties fought the fire for five hours from 9:15 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.

High heat and humidity made it difficult for firefighters. As the fire raged, a hundred pigs were let out a chute at the corner of the building as smoke billowed out just a few feet over their heads.

In a statement, Custom Quality Packers said the company is grateful that all its 22 employees are safe and no animals were lost after the fire broke out at the pork processing facility.

“This is one of the larger fires when have had in Nash County in a while,” said Brent Fisher, assistant director of fire rescue services and emergency management for Nash County.

Fisher said the Bailey Fire Department arrived at the 3571 Friday Road plant at 9:13 a.m.

“When fire crews arrived, they found a fire in the rear of the structure and they are currently still in suppression operations trying to put the fire under control,” Fisher said.

Bailey firefighters were the first to arrive at the 10,000 square-foot steel building.

“They reported smoke showing from the building and upon investigation, found a fire in the rear of the structure and that’s when they started their operation as far as putting fire suppression lines in place and starting the suppression operation,” Fisher said.  

Dennis Eburg, who’s driven trucks for the company for the last seven years, recalled the moments when employees discovered the fire.

“We just saw a whole lot of black smoke and then we heard an explosion back here in the back and that‘s when everybody just took off. All we know is the fire started from the kill floor and after that, nobody knows what happened,” Eburg said. “I came in at 5 this morning to get loaded to go to U.S. Foods, so when I got back from U.S. Foods, I started loading my truck for delivery. When we opened up the processing room door about 9 o’clock, all black smoke just rushed in. That’s when I just dropped pigs and started running.”

Geymy Contreras of Wilson County works on the kill floor weighing pigs and putting them in the freezer.

“I was in my car and I looked up and I saw flames and smoke,” Contreras said  “I ran and told everybody to come out.” 

“The coolers inside, they are full of pigs,” Eburg said. “I would say about 250 or 300 are inside the coolers that have already been processed.”

As the fire continued, the remaining pigs were hustled out of the back of the building. Contreras could be seen corralling them.

One firefighter was taken to Nash UNC Health Care's Nash General Hospital and treated for heat exhaustion. Bailey was under a heat advisory with high temperatures in the 90s and the heat index topping triple digits. 

“We do have EMS on the scene, so they are providing rehab support for our firefighters with the heat and the humidity that they are dealing with,” Fisher said. “You are wearing somewhere around 45 pounds of extra gear with the heat and the humidity. You are looking at some high temperatures inside the building, but then wearing all that protective gear also adds extra stress to the body, so during hot days like today with high humidities and high temperatures, as soon as we can get them in rehab, we give them water, check their vitals and also get them refreshed and ready to go if they are needed again. It is a hot environment for them in situations like today, so we have to take extra precautions.”

Firefighters sprayed down the hogs with water to cool them as they massed in groups behind the building.

“It is not only hot for the firefighters and people in general, but it is also on the animals too,” Fisher said. “They can be overcome by heat as well.”

Fisher said the investigation would begin as soon as the fire was out.

“At the direction of the Bailey Fire Department, we will assist them in determining cause and origin of the fire,” Fisher said. “At some point we will start some investigation and interviews with the individuals who were the workers who were on scene to try to determine what happened there and start the investigation, but that has not started yet.”

Custom Quality Packers has been at the Friday Road site for the last 24 years. The company thanked firefighters in a prepared statement. 

“Authorities responded quickly after employees noticed the fire about 9 a.m. We are thankful for the rapid response and professionalism of many first responders. The cause of the fire is undetermined,” the statement reads. “We have identified and remain focused on providing immediate solutions for our customers and business partners, whose support at this time has been incredible.”

Fire departments involved included Bailey, Middlesex, Stanhope, Ferrells, Nashville, Rock Ridge, Sims, Silver Lake, Bunn and Wilson.  Fire departments from Spring Hope, Bunn, Nashville and Pilot provided coverage for departments involved in the fire.

Nash County EMS and the Nash County Sheriff’s Office provided assistance at the scene.
“We just appreciate all the efforts from the fire departments, especially on a hot day like what they are being faced with, but we appreciate all the efforts that everyone is making,” Fisher said.