Thomas Geyer

A fire Thursday at Kraft Food's Oscar Mayer plant in Davenport forced the evacuation of about 650 workers and caused the facility to be shut down for the rest of the day, officials with the company said.

The plant, located at 1337 W. 2nd St., is expected to start production again sometime today, said Jill Saletta, spokeswoman for Kraft Foods North America, Oscar Mayer Foods Division.

"What we understand is that we had outside contractors working in the building," she said. "They were cutting an access wall between the old facility and a new area of the plant."

During the cutting, the insulation inside the wall overheated and began smoldering, she said. "At that point, they called the fire department and evacuated the building," she added. "No one was injured."

Davenport Fire Department reports said that the fire started at 2:24 p.m. on the plant's fifth floor. A construction crew was welding a stainless steel pipe chase when Styrofoam caught fire, authorities said. Access to the fire was difficult because it was trapped between the walls.

Nine of 11 Davenport fire companies were called to the scene. Two Bettendorf fire crews also were called to assist until an additional 15 Davenport firefighters returned to duty.

First- and second-shift workers were sent home, except for those working sanitation and cleanup, Saletta said.

The only third-shift workers likely to be used also would be those helping to clean, she said.

Davenport authorities said late Thursday that the plant's management was working with representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to determine when the plant can resume operation.

Davenport firefighters monitored the site for hot spots for hours Thursday night. Damage was confined to the area of origin. No damage estimate was available late Thursday, fire officials said.

The plant produces and distributes Oscar Mayer and Louis Rich sliced meats for retail and food service, as well as carving board meats, link products, such as Oscar Mayer hot dogs, and Oscar Mayer Lunchables Lunch Combinations, Saletta said.

Products from the Davenport facility are distributed throughout the United States.

Oscar Mayer purchased the plant in 1946 from Kohrs Packing Company. Kraft and Oscar Mayer merged in 1995.

Numerous additions to the plant have been made. A five-story addition was added in 1977. A 90,000-square-foot, on-site warehouse for finished product distribution was constructed in 1997. In 2001, Kraft added to the then-705,000 square-foot plant with the addition of four floors — each to two existing buildings — while two structures built in 1916 were demolished to make way for a new two-story building and receiving dock.

In March 1996, the plant suffered heavy damage due to a large fire that started in a third-floor smokehouse. In August 2000, chlorine fumes sent more than 40 workers to area hospitals and shut down the plant's Lunchables production line for about three hours.

Kraft officials estimate the plant's annual economic impact on the Quad-Cities at $95 million, which includes payroll, utilities, taxes, and goods and services. The plant employs about 1,800 people.

Thomas Geyer can be contacted at

(563) 383-2328 or tgeyer@qctimes.com.

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