BURLINGTON — Working in five-hour shifts through the night, more than 80 different fire departments battled a massive blaze that tore through a food processing plant near downtown Burlington.

The fire broke out around 6 p.m. Wednesday night at the Echo Lake Foods egg processing plant, 33102 S. Honey Lake Road, and escalated to an eight-alarm event requiring fire assistance from the entire southeast Wisconsin region as well as northern Illinois, Burlington Mayor Bob Miller said.

Facing bitterly cold conditions, strong winds and a large facility with many additions made the blaze “really, really tough to fight,” Miller said.

The fire was contained Thursday and most of the 70,000-square-foot facility was reduced to a tangle of twisted, ice-coated metal. Smoke continued to pour from the wreckage and firefighters kept working to douse several “hot spots” into the afternoon, funneling water from nearby Echo Lake, as well as the city water system, according to Miller. Firefighters were still on the scene as of 8 p.m. Thursday.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, although fire officials could not begin a thorough examination until all of the hot spots had been eliminated, Miller said.

Employees, residents evacuated

Police evacuated 10 homes and one apartment building near the plant, according to authorities. Employees evacuated the plant safely when the fire first broke out Wednesday, and no firefighters were hurt, Miller said.

The 50 people who were evacuated were allowed to return to their homes Thursday morning, although the Racine hazardous materials response team remained on site to monitor air quality following a minor release of ammonia residue from pipes. Hazardous materials handlers helped secure the area where ammonia and liquid oxygen tanks were stored at the egg processing plant.

Volunteers from the Red Cross were also on scene and on stand-by both days, said Racine Disaster Action Team Coordinator and Public Affairs Officer Bill Simmons. The Red Cross temporarily put up evacuees in local hotels, and offered emotional support for those who were displaced.

“Even though no homes were really damaged, it can still be kind of scary,” Simmons said. “You’re doing your nightly routine, and then you’re suddenly uprooted.”

Community support

Local businesses provided support to the many firefighting teams that cycled through the scene in five-hour shifts.

The 1073 Milwaukee Ave. Culver’s delivered 50 or 60 hamburgers and cheeseburgers Wednesday, management said, and the 2088 Milwaukee Ave. Domino’s Pizza also donated two dozen pizzas and eight liters of soda to fire personnel.

“If they’re still going at it tonight, we’ll send over some more,” said Domino’s general manager Correna Anderson Thursday afternoon.

Despite the scale of the destruction, the icy cold and the long hours, Simmons said it was heartening to see the community outreach and support spurred by the disaster.

“It touches your heart to see such a great community outpouring,” he said. “It was a great collaborative effort.”

So far, it is unknown how much the damage might cost Echo Lake Foods, which employs around 300 people; company representatives declined to comment Thursday.

Republican Speaker of the Assembly Robin Vos, whose western Racine County district includes Burlington, said in a statement Thursday that he will do “whatever is necessary” to ensure those jobs stay in the Burlington area.

“I want to personally thank the firefighters ... that responded for working to contain the blaze, and keeping it from spreading to other facilities and homes,” Vos said. “I applaud those who are helping their neighbors in the aftermath of this fire. Burlington has come together to support its own, a testament to our strength as a community.”


By the numbers

80+ fire departments responded from across southeastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois

300+ personnel from various emergency agencies assisted in battling the fire

18 hours spent containing the fire

50 local residents evacuated

300 people employed by Echo Lake Foods

(17) comments

outnumbrd

THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK! Stupid fools make stupid comments

My son's high school anatomy teacher is an EMT, and he was there all night helping the firefighters. Their gloves would literally freeze to the handles on the hoses. (Have you seen the pictures of the cars with ice all over them? Now picture that on the firefighters.) They had to chop the ice off so they could get their hands out of their gloves. One female firefighter needed to use the restroom, and it took them 20 minutes to chop the ice off her her coat, pants, boots, gloves and helmet so she could get it off. They all took hour shifts, so, if there wasn't all of the departments and firefighters there to help out in this monstrous blaze, that contained CHEMICALS, it would have spread to people's homes and neighboring businesses.
I would like to thank all 300+ firefighters that were out there in the bitter cold that worked to contain the blaze. If it hadn't been for each and every one of them, the situation would have been much worse. And thanks to the EMT"s who helped keep our firefighters safe and warm, your work does not go unnoticed.

Shari

some dept manned empty stations for local calls. Not all dept were actually at the fire. Some rotated in for relief. Get a clue and dont comment on what you dont know.

jrunny

Amazing how people go nuts on so unimportant facts. But not one of you truly have read any thing Washington has coming for us.

outoftowner53105

There have been multiple reports that more than 80 departments responded.

You folks do realize that the area of the fire has other places to stage trucks, right? There is an empty Kmart parking lot that is close by. The access roads to the plant were also likely used for staging.

I'm located a few miles to the east of the plant, and after listening to the sirens going past my place, I can say that over 80 units is not far fetched at all.

It doesn't matter what the number was at any rate. Good job by all involved in fighting a very serious and dangerous fire in extreme cold conditions with no injuries.

Burlington isn't a little burg with only one place to park some fire trucks.

johnnyquest

It was one million depts......who cares...But alot of depts responded, came, and went, after providing help. Nice job!

johnny mack

All the departments are not there all at once. Some come with trucks while others have a chief come. It just means 88 departments were involved somehow with something.

mt_pleasantly
mt_pleasantly

Not knowing has never stopped anyone from chiming in here.

needles1960
needles1960

Actually, final count was 92 DEPARTMENTS, and there was more than just the Vets Center for staging the equipment. I gotta love people that can make remarks on subjects when they don't have a clue about what their talking about. Not all of these departments where at the fire all at one time people.

snowfeather

http://www.firerescue1.com/fire-attack/articles/1399554-11-fire-departments-respond-to-6-alarm-fire-at-frozen-food-plant/

bsentertainment25

Did you watch the video that is in this article, they say multiple times that more than 80 departments responded. Obviously someone made a typo here!

jrunny

most of the departments are parked at the veteren center. As they are maybe one truck from each dept. And these firemen are relieving the trucks near the fire. Also many of 80 dept are just water trucks.

snowfeather

88 Departments? Or do they mean 88 rigs (pumpers/quints)...

snowfeather

80 depts! That means that Racine is considered ONE dept, Waterford ONE dept, etc! There is NO way in
heck" you can put 80 fire depts at the veterans center. HONESTLY whose doing the reporting here? I don't care if each was a pumper.. 80 will not fit in that area! someone's blowing smoke! EIGHTY DEPTS!

Sir Cumference

The fire chief is trying to determine the egg-zact cause of the blaze.

jason30

Actually it was 88 departments there were parked in what was called a staging area for the rigs.

snowfeather

Jason, you want to tell us that they put 88 DEPTS or even 88 Rigs are going to fit at the veterans center? Honstly do you have any idea where the Vets Center is and the size of the parking area?

snowfeather

80 Fire depts? EIGHTY? Where would they fit EIGHTY depts and all their rigs? Gotta love proof readers....

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.