Fire mar­shal probes plant blaze

Fa­cil­ity had been closed af­ter li­cence pulled by food in­spec­tion agency

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - NATALIE PADDON BURLING­TON —

The Of­fice of the On­tario Fire Mar­shal is in­ves­ti­gat­ing a mas­sive fire that ripped through the Paletta In­ter­na­tional Cor­po­ra­tion meat-pro­cess­ing plant.

The blaze broke out at 4480 Paletta Court just af­ter 4:10 p.m. Wed­nes­day and con­tin­ued to burn for hours, even­tu­ally con­sum­ing at least a third of the fa­cil­ity.

Burling­ton fire­fight­ers spent most of Thurs­day at the plant near Ap­pleby Line and the QEW as they con­tin­ued to douse hot spots with aerial de­vices and li­aise with the fire mar­shal’s of­fice.

“I hon­estly think we’ll be here most of the rest of the day, one way or an­other,” Burling­ton fire Chief David Lazenby said mid­day Thurs­day.

Be­cause of the size of the fire, crews

want to make sure there are no flare-ups from fallen de­bris, he said.

The Burling­ton fire de­part­ment is also work­ing with main­te­nance staff to as­sess what’s left of the re­frig­er­a­tion sys­tem and de­ter­mine whether any ac­tion needs to be taken as there was am­mo­nia on-site.

“Now that we’ve got the ben­e­fit of day­light, we’re us­ing drone footage to get an as­sess­ment of what’s the scale of the dam­age and what can we do to man­age what am­mo­nia might be left in the sys­tem,” Lazenby said.

The Min­istry of the En­vi­ron­ment was at the site Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day to as­sess whether any wa­ter used to fight the fire af­fected the en­vi­ron­ment.

“We un­der­stand that most of the am­mo­nia was con­sumed dur­ing the fire,” said min­istry spokesper­son Gary Wheeler.

Lazenby said it’s too early to de­ter­mine the cause of the fire and dam­age caused by it, but noted it is “sig­nif­i­cant.”

Ten­der Choice Foods, which spe­cial­izes in pro­cess­ing, pack­ing and dis­tribut­ing meat prod­ucts, op­er­ates in the Paletta In­ter­na­tional Cor­po­ra­tion build­ing.

Ten­der Choice Foods is a sub­sidiary of Blue Goose Pure Foods Inc., which ac­quired the com­pany in Oc­to­ber 2016, ac­cord­ing to a press re­lease from the com­pany.

Ten­der Choice is also an in­di­rect sub­sidiary of Dundee Cor­po­ra­tion.

In a news re­lease, Dundee Cor­po­ra­tion said the fa­cil­ity is ex­pected to re­main closed while the dam­age is as­sessed.

Lazenby said em­ploy­ees are the most im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion. “Our hearts go out to them and our thoughts are cer­tainly with them.”

Fire­fight­ers from Oakville and Hamil­ton were asked to help the Burling­ton de­part­ment fight the blaze.

An­gelo Paletta, pres­i­dent of the long­time fam­ily firm, said Wed­nes­day night the fire had left him “in shock.”

“It’s def­i­nitely not the Christ­mas present I was look­ing for,” he told The Spec­ta­tor.

All the work­ers who were in the large build­ing when the fire started made it out with­out in­jury. Nor­mally, be­tween 150 and 200 work­ers are in the build­ing where turkey, chicken and pork are pro­cessed, Paletta said. “To­day, they were do­ing some main­te­nance, re­pairs. … Thank God there wasn’t a lot of staff there (Wed­nes­day).”

Paletta couldn’t be reached for com­ment Thurs­day.

The Cana­dian Food In­spec­tion Agency sus­pended the op­er­at­ing li­cence of Blue Goose Pure Foods Inc. in Burling­ton on Nov. 10, ac­cord­ing to a pros­e­cu­tion bul­letin. The sus­pen­sion was for fail­ing to meet re­quire­ments re­lat­ing to build­ing main­te­nance un­der meat in­spec­tion reg­u­la­tions. A CFIA spokesper­son con­firmed this is the same lo­ca­tion as Wed­nes­day night’s blaze.

The fa­cil­ity hadn’t yet re­opened at the time of the fire, said a Dundee spokesper­son.

Paletta In­ter­na­tional Cor­po­ra­tion moved to Burling­ton in 1964 and built the 15,000square-foot meat plant along the QEW. In 2013, they built a 90,000-square-foot freezer on Glover Road in Hamil­ton.

The firm has also de­vel­oped res­i­den­tial units, build­ings and ex­panded into film, me­dia and en­ter­tain­ment.

This isn’t the first time there’s been a fire in the Paletta Court fa­cil­ity. A po­lice of­fi­cer was in­jured and dozens of con­trac­tors were sent scram­bling for safety as ex­plo­sions ripped through the meat-pro­cess­ing plant while it was un­der ren­o­va­tion in June 1994.

An­other fire broke out the next month as ren­o­va­tions con­tin­ued. In 2006, a fire also ripped through a Toronto slaugh­ter­house owned by the Palet­tas.

Burling­ton fire­fight­ers con­tin­ued to douse hot spots Thurs­day morn­ing af­ter fire broke out at Paletta In­ter­na­tional Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon.

NIKKI WES­LEY, METROLAND

About a third of the Paletta food plant near Ap­pleby Line and the QEW was de­stroyed in the fire. A dol­lar value is not yet known.

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