Egg farm fire may have killed 300,000 chickens

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Neil Johnson
Saturday, February 1, 2014

WHITEWATER—A massive fire at S&R Egg Farm east of Whitewater destroyed an egg-production building Friday night and killed as many as 300,000 chickens, Lauderdale-La Grange Fire Chief John Duerst said.

Duerst said firefighting crews from Walworth, Rock and Jefferson counties pumped over 500,000 gallons of water in a 16-hour battle against a blaze that destroyed a large building used to house egg-laying hens at the farm at 9416 N. Tamarack Road, about 9 miles southeast of Whitewater.

Duerst said the multiple story metal building, which was about 20,000 square feet, housed between 280,000 and 300,000 egg-laying hens. The birds were killed in the fire, he said.

“There wasn't any chance for them,” Duerst said.

Fire investigators are still working to learn a cause, but as of Saturday afternoon, fire officials seemed doubtful they would learn much about what sparked the fire. 

"I would hazard a guess that they won't have a determination. I don't know if they'll ever know one due to the destruction," Lauderdale-La Grange Assistant Fire Chief Dave Nelson said.

Nelson said a cost estimate of damages was pending an insurance evaluation. He said it hadn't been determined whether a state fire marshal would be called in to investigate.

The 800-acre egg farm, which houses 2.4 million hens and produces 2 million eggs a day, hoped to resume production Saturday, Duerst said.

 The building that caught fire, which Duerst said was two years old and part of a “state-of-the-art” egg-production facility that uses a system of conveyors to move eggs, was apparently closed up and locked when the fire broke out.  

Fire crews were digging through shelled out and partially collapsed building and still were trucking in water Saturday morning to cool off lingering hot spots, Duerst said.

The building was one of 14 barns at the farm, the company said.

Fire crews activated multiple MABAS box alarms and called in dozens of water tank trucks to the fire, which broke out about 7:30 p.m. Friday. Crews from Janesville, Milton, Edgerton, Clinton and Whitewater responded with water tank trucks.

Firefighters struggled to get enough water to control the blaze, but crews were able to keep the fire from spreading to adjacent buildings and chemical storage tanks.

Duerst said that fire crews were trucking in water from Whitewater, Elkhorn, Palmyra and Eagle. He said at one point, the city of Whitewater reported 180 tank trucks had filled up.

“It was a lot of gallons of water. The guys who were hauling it were having a difficult time remembering how many trips they made,” Duerst said.

A company official with S&R Egg Farm on Saturday declined to comment on a potential cause of the fire. The official said he could not confirm the scope of damages or the number of chickens and eggs lost in the blaze.

The company said on its website its offices weren't affected by the fire and facilities on site where eggs are processed and packaged were not damaged. 

Last updated: 10:19 am Saturday, February 1, 2014

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