No one hurt as Rifle Packing Plant burns down
Fire burned the Rifle Packing Plant to the ground Monday. No one was hurt.The building, constructed around the middle of the century, was insulated with sawdust and could not be saved. Officials and the owners believe the fire started in the smokehouse just after 9 a.m. It was not suppressed until late afternoon.”We spent about an hour and 10 minutes trying to get to the ceiling,” said Rifle Fire Protection District chief Mike Morgan. “But it was getting too risky and I didn’t want anyone to be hurt or killed, so I made the call to pull everyone back.”Firefighters continued to put water on the fire in order to keep it from spreading and eventually brought in a tractor hoe to pull the walls down and finally suppress the inferno.The Rifle meat packing plant was the only packing plant in the area certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The nearest alternatives are in Craig and Fruita.The building and its contents were insured, but owner Buddy McNeel wasn’t sure if the insurance would cover enough to start over.”I’ve been told at one point that it would cost $1 million to rebuild at our capacity with all the new regulations,” he said.McNeel said he hoped to salvage the meats in the plant’s outdoor freezers, mostly already processed items that were just waiting to be picked up. He checked the freezers and said the meat was still frozen and was probably not too smoke-damaged. But there was no power going to the freezers. “If we can find some way to keep them frozen until tomorrow, I’ve got a mobile freezer unit coming up from Denver in the morning,” McNeel said Monday.He said there were about 13 carcasses hanging in the plant and that he thought insurance would cover replacement products for the plant’s customers.Co-owner Carol McNeel and three workers were in the plant when a big ball of black smoke rolled through the building.”I’m just glad everybody was fine and nobody was hurt,” Carol McNeel said. “This stuff can all be replaced.”
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