A catastrophic fire at Thomas Foods' Murray Bridge meat works was started by a worker maintaining an offal bin, according to the Metropolitan Fire Service's Phil Kilsby.
The fire began around 7pm on Wednesday, January 3, and quickly engulfed the meat works' boning room, recently part of a multi-million dollar upgrade, and much of its storage area.
All employees were safely evacuated, but the factory's largest building was destroyed.
Murray Valley Standard journalist Peri Strathearn went live from the meat works the night of the fire. Watch the video below:
One hundred firefighters worked to control the blaze at its peak, and it was still burning on Sunday morning.
The nature of the fire allowed fire crews to “attack” the blaze, saving “tens of millions of dollars of facilities”, according to Metropolitan Fire Service assistant chief fire officer Roy Thompson.
Although it’s still too early to confirm the cost of the damage to Murray Bridge’s biggest employer, it is estimated to cost millions of dollars.
Thomas Foods International hosted a press conference at its Adelaide headquarters to discuss the fire on Thursday, January 4. Watch the video below:
By noon Thursday, Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Leon Bignell and Minister for Emergency Services Chris Picton had toured parts of the fire-damaged facility.
TFI pledged on Thursday to support its workforce, including by providing some work at its Lobethal abattoir. Its 1400 employees will also be paid next Thursday (January 11) as normal.
Beyond that, the future is unclear. Read some of the workers’ reactions here.
By Friday morning, a 24-hour support hotline – 1800 302 787 – began operating for workers and others affected by the fire.
Murray Valley Standard journalist Peri Strathearn spoke with South Australian emergency relief services manager Paul Reardon two days after the blaze. Watch the video below:
Federal MP for Barker Tony Pasin pledged to work with colleagues to ensure Australia’s government was ready to assist in any way.
“Fourteen hundred workers and their families remain uncertain about what the future holds and I understand that this is a stressful time,” he said.
“I want them to know that I stand with them and that they will be supported.”
The Murray Bridge abattoir is TFI's largest, but it has smaller facilities at Lobethal; Tamworth, New South Wales; and Wallangarra, Queensland.
It is not yet clear what impact the fire will have on the company's hundreds of employees, a mix of locals and migrants on skilled work visas.
TFI is Australia's largest family-owned meat processing company, with an annual revenue in excess of $1 billion.