Hi-Grade recovering after fire

Firefighters used aerial trucks to help fight the blaze at Hi-Grade Egg Producers. Photo by David Fenker

By David Fenker

While much is still unknown about last week’s fire at Hi-Grade Egg Producers, Midwest Poultry Services CEO Bob Krouse says the business is already preparing to rebuild.

“As we get permission from the insurance company to go ahead and start moving things out, and make sure that we’re good with the Department of Environmental Management, we’re starting to clear away as much as we can,” Krouse said.

The total cost of the fire, which destroyed five barns and more than one million chickens Monday, Oct. 2, has yet to be determined, Krouse said.

In the meantime, the business is also investigating options to replace the lost buildings.

“That’s another thing we’re still working on. We don’t know if we’ll go back with the same style of housing we had there, or if we’ll be going with cage-free housing,” Krouse said.

“We have three buildings that aren’t connected with the buildings that burned – they’re in a separate part of the farm – that are cage-free.”

Officials with the Chester Township Fire Department said that the Indiana State Fire Marshall will handle the investigation, which will begin at an as-of-yet undetermined date.

Despite the loss of five henhouses and more than one million hens in a fire , Hi-Grade Egg Producers will continue operating with no layoffs.

“We still process eggs here from a couple million birds, and in order to maintain our supply to our customers, we’ll have to buy eggs from other egg producers, and we’ll still be grading those here,” Krouse said. “We’ll have more than enough to do to keep everybody busy; nobody’s going to lose any hours or jobs.”

The cause of the fire, reported at 10:13 p.m. Monday, Oct. 2, is still under investigation.

“We’re starting to look into it. There’s still some things smoldering, so we have to wait until everything cools down to work on determining exactly what happened,” Krouse said.

He noted that the henhouses were equipped with alarms but no sprinkler systems, which he said was a typical setup for agricultural facilities.

More than one million chickens were lost in the fire, Krouse said, noting that the facility held a total of 2.7 million chickens and produced nearly 2.3 million eggs per day.

The buildings that burnt were the oldest on the property, built when the facility opened in 1982, Krouse added.

“They’ve been remodeled, but they were the buildings that were built back in ’82-’84,” he said.

A dollar estimate of the damage was unavailable by deadline.

Nearly two dozen emergency response agencies battled the fire, which took nearly seven hours to contain.

Chester Township Fire Department Assistant Chief Brady Airgood said the department shortly before 10:15 p.m. for a fire at the farm, located east of North Manchester at 5780 E. 1100 N.

“There were five barns that were completely lost,” Airgood said.

“For how long they are, it’s hard for us to get down to the middle of the barn safely once they get going. The little bit of wind that we had was just enough to push the fire along.”

Around 80 firefighters belonging to 20 fire departments from Wabash, Huntington, Kosciusko, Miami and Whitley counties were called to the fire, he said, as well as Wabash County Emergency Management Agency, Wabash County Sheriff’s Department, Parkview EMS and the American Red Cross.

Airgood said that there were no injuries associated with the fire.

Firefighters remained on scene throughout Tuesday morning in case the fire rekindled.

Midwest Poultry Services, L.P., is a Mentone-based company founded in 1875 that employs around 500 people in on three farms in Indiana, Illinois and Ohio. The companies 8.5 million hens produce more than five million eggs per day, which are sold to large grocery retailers and donated to local food banks.

Posted on 2017 Oct 10