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Fire at Wisconsin plant leaves hundreds out of work

(MCT) — BURLINGTON, Wis. — A raging fire at an egg-processing plant in southeast Wisconsin was brought under control shortly before noon on Thursday, but Burlington Mayor Bob Miller said its impact will be felt for a long time in his community and beyond.

Echo Lake Farms Produce Company “is one of the largest employers of the city,” Miller said at a news conference. “There are now 300 workers without a job.”

“I have not seen a fire with this impact,” added Burlington Fire Chief Richard “Dick” Lodle, who has headed the department since 1992.

Firefighters from 88 departments in Wisconsin and northern Illinois helped battle the blaze, which started at about 6 p.m. Wednesday.

The investigation into the fire’s cause continues. It started in a 25,000-square-foot production area of the 70,000-square-foot facility, Lodle said. The second shift was working at the time, but Lodle could not say how many employees were in the area. He noted that there we no injuries among employees or firefighters, who also contended with bitter cold.

The production area, called “the breaking room,” is where workers separate eggs from their shells. The egg is then sold to restaurants, grocery stores and food suppliers, according to Miller.

“We hope to rebuild and reopen as soon as possible,” Miller said. “We want them to rebuild and put people back to work.”

Company representatives were not available for comment.

Lifelong Burlington resident Scott Ebert, who called the city a “wonderful, close-knit community,” is a maintenance man at the Veterans Terrace banquet hall. Firefighters on Thursday stopped by to warm up and grab some food supplied by local business. Ebert said many friends from high school work at Echo Lake.

“Hopefully they’ll be able to get back to work,” he said.

Miller noted that a meeting is scheduled for workers on Wednesday, when company officials will explain benefits that are available to them.

John Puntillo has lived in Burlington since 1983 and has owned John’s Main Event on Pine Street for 28 years. He recalls a few second-shift workers in his bar last night talking about the fire. They were supposed to be at work, but likely won’t be for a while.

“It’s not good,” he said of the impact more unemployment will have on the small town. “Obviously, a small town to have 300 people out of work, it doesn’t take an economist to figure this out.”

Al Strelbicki, 79, owns the industrial controls and repair shop next door. He has lived in Burlington for 40 years and said of all the cities he has traveled, Burlington is the best place he has ever lived.

“It’s gonna hurt the town,” he said. “It’s going to kills us. The economy is bad enough without this happening.”


(Amanda Marrazzo is a freelance writer and Peter Nickeas is a Chicago Tribune reporter.)

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