Fire forces evacuation
CLOUDS OF SMOKE n Firefighting units, including a ladder truck from Brandon, battle a blaze Tuesday afternoon at the Choctaw Maid Farms plant in Forest. Thick smoke and flames poured from the poultry processing plant, injuring three people and forcing the evacuation of much of the town of about 5,000 residents. AP photo
March 21, 2001
FOREST (AP) Initial tests conducted near a poultry plant that went up in flames and poured thick smoke into the sky found no toxins in the air, authorities said.
Three people were hospitalized as a result of Tuesday's fire, all treated for smoke inhalation and released.
The fire was reported about 11 a.m. at the Choctaw Maid Farm plant on U.S. 80 in Forest. Flames quickly spread through the plant and a heavy chemical smell was reported by residents in the area.
Police investigator Trey Rogers said firefighters had managed to control the fire by mid-afternoon Tuesday.
He said chemicals in the plant, including chlorine gas and ammonia, made it difficult for firefighters to reach parts of the blaze.
The state Bureau of Pollution Control sent a team headed to the plant to measure the pollutants in the air.
Alvin Seaney, the county's Civil Defense director and fire coordinator said preliminary tests revealed no dangerous pollutants in the air within about 100 yards of the plant.
Authorities said Tyson Foods, located across the highway, was evacuated, as were a high school and elementary school. The Scott County Sheriff's Department and jail were placed on standby for possible evacuation, though neither had to be cleared.
Choctaw Maid and Tyson are among the largest employers in Scott County, where poultry is a major industry for its 28,400 citizens. Tyson has about 500 workers while Choctaw has some 325 employees.
Sid Salter, publisher of the Scott County Times weekly newspaper, said the plant fire is a tremendous blow to our economy.''
There is an oversupply of chickens on the market and the price is low. It has been an extremely difficult year. The fire will have an affect on the growers who supply Choctaw Maid,'' he said.
Seaney said a neighborhood near the plant and a number of small businesses were also evacuated, but by mid-afternoon most evacuees were free to go back to their work places and homes.
Fire departments from several communities, including Morton some 12 miles away, joined local firefighters at the plant.