Major fire at North Star Foods plant forces evacuations

Industrial Accidents
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A major fire broke out at the North Star Foods plant in St.Charles, Minn on Friday, April 17, 2009, forcing the evacuation of nearly 3000 residents, reports the Winona Daily News.  A huge fire at the meat processing plant with a towering plume of black smoke, visible nearly 10  miles away, caused panic in the area. The news that anhydrous ammonia tanks inside the facility could explode only added to residents’ fears.

The fire started in a section of the building that houses conveyor-belt ovens used to cook poultry, beef and pork, said Mark Eads, North Star’s plant manager. Eckles said the fire may have started near a rooftop refrigeration unit. An official cause is yet to be determined. The state fire marshal’s office is investigating the cause of the blaze.

Apparently the firefighters could manage to douse out most of the flames by evening and release the ammonia by opening the valves on the tanks, reducing the risk of an explosion.

However the disaster has resulted in a many of the town’s residents uncertain about their economic future, as the plant is a large part of the local economy, both as a customer of services as well as an employer. Nearly three fourths of the plant appears to be gutted by the blaze. The plant has been in operation since about 1971.