Tyson to rebuild, pay employees after fire at Holcomb plant

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Facebook: Delfina Quinonez Cardoza Facebook: Delfina Quinonez Cardoza
Holcomb, KAN. (KAKE) -

Tyson Foods plans to rebuild after a fire that destroyed part of its beef plant in Holcomb. 

The company said Monday that the current plant will be shut down indefinitely, but a new one will be built at the same location. Work to clear the damage has begun fire officials continue assessing the damage. 

“This is a difficult time for our team members and their families, and we want to ensure they’re taken care of,” said Steve Stouffer, group president of Tyson Fresh Meats. “Today, we will notify our full-time, active team members that they’ll be paid weekly until production resumes.”

Stouffer said the team members may be called on to work during this time to help with clean-up and other projects. All full-time active employees are guaranteed pay regardless of the hours they work. 

“We’re taking steps to move production to alternative sites,” Stouffer said. “Tyson Foods has built in some redundancy to handle situations like these and we will use other plants within our network to help keep our supply chain full.”

Tyson Foods operates six plants in Kansas, employing more than 5,600 people. 

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Finney County is waiting to find out just how bad the damage is from a fire at the Tyson Beef Plant in Holcomb.  The county’s largest employer has already said the plant will remain closed indefinitely.

“I have black smoke from…. 50,” one responding firefighter can be heard on the Broadcastify recording of radio traffic Friday night.

“Yeah, you could definitely smell the smoke over here,” Jennifer Sanders said Sunday afternoon from her home overlooking the plant.  “Of course, we're not very far away.”

The first Sanders knew anything was wrong was when friends up the road called her Friday evening.  They all ended up watching the blaze from her backyard.

“”We went out and we saw lots of smoke, and the firetrucks from Garden and the Holcomb firetruck went out there,” she said.

The efforts to coordinate the response clear in the recorded radio traffic.

“We also have our foam unit available if needed,” one firefighter offers.

“Go ahead and send it if you’ve got the personnel,” another answers.

Firefighters spent some 12 hours battling the flames that Tyson says got their start in the box shop on the west end of the plant.  More than a thousand employees evacuated the building with the first fire call.

While Tyson says the fire so badly damaged the meatpacking plant it will remain closed indefinitely, bringing down the roof in one place, neighbors are just glad no one was hurt.

“Can we get a camera up with the rope?” a firefighter inside asked via radio traffic.

The request followed moments later with a series of commands coordinating the effort to get another camera up onto the second floor of the plant.

With the fire out by Saturday afternoon, worry turned to what happens next.  Tyson has promised to keep paying workers a “weekly guarantee until production resumes.”

“I think it would affect the whole county , not just our town,” said Sanders, who points out many of the workers live in Garden City and other towns throughout Finney County.

While they still don't know exactly how much damage the plant suffered, the community is already rallying around both the workers and the company.

Around town signs of support are already popping up, along with a new phrase: Tyson Strong.

“Folks wanting to do something,” explained Lona DuVall with the Finney County Economic Development Corporation.  “You know, everybody feels a little bit helpless in a situation like this.”

DuVall says Tyson is popular in the community because it’s always been a good neighbor.

“They do a lot to support others in this community.  And I think that's why folks here really want to show their support back,” she said.

What that help will look like will have to wait until the community knows exactly what workers and Tyson need.

“I mean it is a concern for them and we are concerned for them but I think that the community will come together,” Sanders said.

Exactly how should develop after company meetings with employees, which are set to begin early Monday morning.