About 50 residents remain evacuated from their homes adjacent to Echo Lake Foods
Area firefighters as of 6 a.m. Thursday were still on the scene of an eight-alarm blaze that stubbornly burned through the night and through the sprawling Echo Lake Foods plant on Honey Lake Road.
Mayor Bob Miller said in a broadcast report shortly before 6 a.m. that it was still an active fire, meaning firefighters had been on the scene for about 12 hours. He said he didn’t have an estimate of time for when the fire would be extinguished, but noted local firefighters would remain on the scene long after it was to assist with clean up and assure the site was safe.
City officials, in a press release issued early Thursday morning, said fire suppression measures and plant safety systems have prevented the release of any ammonia, and this situation was stable as of 4:30 a.m. Ammonia is used in the processing of food at the plant but can be dangerous to people if released in large amounts.
Local drivers who plan to use Milwaukee Avenue – Burlington’s busiest street – Thursday morning are warned that the section between Congress Street and Maryland Avenue would be restricted to allow fire tankers to access water from Echo Lake. Drivers should plan alternative routes, however, one lane of traffic in each direction was open as of 6:30 a.m.
Miller said the 50 or so people who have been evacuated from 10 homes and one apartment complex immediately east of the plant have not yet been allowed to return home. The residents stayed with friends and relatives, if available, or received housing assistance from the Red Cross. Currently eight people have been provided assistance and are staying at a local hotel. Those who have been evacuated should contact the Burlington Police Department to determine when it will be safe to return to their homes, city officials said.
Miller said firefighters or equipment from 80 fire departments throughout the region were brought in to help battle the blaze. Additionally the Racine Hazardous Materials Unit is on the scene monitoring air quality and assistance is being provided by the Southeast Wisconsin Incident Command Management Team. More than 300 personnel from various emergency agencies have assisted in battling the fire, according to City Administrator Kevin Lahner.
It appeared Thursday morning that fire crews were using large excavation equipment to sift through the rubble and uncover any hot spots.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. The Wisconsin State Fire Marshall’s office and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms will be assisting in the fire investigation, city officials said.
Echo Lake Foods, the name of the operation owned by Echo Lake Farm Produce Co., employs approximately 300 people at the 70,000-square foot factory in Burlington. It is one of Burlington’s largest employers, according to city officials. Factory management has asked employees not to report to work Thursday and told city officials they will contact employees with information in the near future.
Miller said the city has already been in contact with state and county economic development officials to enlist their help in dealing with the economic devastation, including the possible reconstruction of factory facilities and dealing with the temporarily displaced workers.
UPDATE: Residents who had been evacuated were allowed to return to their homes late Thursday morning.
A copy of the city’s press release can be read here: