Industrial blazes doused at two sites
Smoke seen for miles in Cudahy, on north side

Posted: July 5, 2006

Mitchell International Airport

Two major industrial fires Wednesday challenged hundreds of firefighters in
Milwaukee County. The fires, in Cudahy and on the north side of Milwaukee, sent huge smoke plumes into the sky, snarled traffic and shortened some work days, but caused no injuries.

Full production was to resume this morning at the Patrick Cudahy Inc. meatpacking plant at One Sweet Applewood Lane in Cudahy after a three-alarm fire in a piece of equipment forced the evacuation of 1,000 first-shift workers

The company said it was too early to estimate damage but said the blaze was confined to the refinery in the oldest part of the factory, where fats and oils are processed for sale to other users.

"Other than some water damage caused when the sprinklers went off, it looks like it was contained in the deodorizer," Vice President of Human Resources Dan Habighorst said, referring to the giant vat of grease that was ignited by a welder's torch Wednesday morning.

Firefighters from 10 departments, including those stationed at Mitchell International Airport and the U.S. Air Force Reserve 440th Airlift Wing , were called to the scene off Layton Ave. around 10:10 a.m.

They spent five hours putting out a blaze Cudahy Fire Lt. Jeff Bloor likened to a colossal kitchen fire in a three-to-four-story vat of grease.

Patrick Cudahy workers watched from the ground as firefighters scrambled atop a three-story section of the building, smoke billowing from its windows and doors.

First-shift workers were sent home around 12:45 p.m. when it became clear that production could not resume. However, second-shift workers were allowed into all areas, except the refinery, around 2 p.m., Habighorst said.

Several miles north, around 1:20 p.m., a pile of as many as 200 cars caught fire at Auto &Scrap Recyclers, Inc., 3800 W. Mill Road, creating a blaze that required nearly 85 Milwaukee firefighters to bring under control. Thick, black smoke could be seen for miles, and traffic near Mill Road and Teutonia Avenue was blocked for hours.

Fire Department Lt. Brian O'Connor said the fire appeared to be a burning pile of approximately 200 cars that was roughly 100 feet wide and 30 to 40 feet high. The blaze was categorized as a four-alarm fire due to the length of the hose needed to reach it.

O'Connor said employees of the scrap yard told firefighters they were burning brush just inside the gates, a considerable distance from the actual fire. No one from the business could be reached for comment.

Firefighters used water and a special foam to battle the fire. The foam is typically used in petroleum fires and lowers the water's viscosity, causing it to sink deeper into the seat of the fire, O'Connor said.

The state department of Natural Resources and the Department of Health were called in but neither agency's reports yielded anything of serious concern, O'Connor said.

"Today was a busy day," said O'Connor, who was still at the scene around 6:30 p.m. "This was our fourth fire since midnight, and it's our third greater alarm fire. We can handle it, but we don't really like to because it stretches our resources. We're out here at a four-alarm fire, and we've still got enough protection for the rest of the city."

Sources: JSOnline, Milwaukee, Journal Sentinel

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