Jobs pledge after fire hits factory

FACTORY bosses have pledged to safeguard the future of 220 jobs after a devastating fire ripped through the heart of a bacon processing plant.The fierce blaze took hold at around 7.

FACTORY bosses have pledged to safeguard the future of 220 jobs after a devastating fire ripped through the heart of a bacon processing plant.

The fierce blaze took hold at around 7.15am yesterday at the Direct Table Foods site in Bury St Edmunds - just yards from Premier Foods, which was badly damaged during a similar incident exactly seven days ago.

Around 80 shift workers were evacuated from the building as 130 firefighters manning 25 appliances from across Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex successfully prevented the blaze from spreading to neighbouring premises.

But many arriving for shifts at the factory, which produces the Suffolk Crown brand as well as bacon, steaks and joints for supermarkets including Sainsbury's, Tesco's and Morrison's, watched in horror throughout the morning as the plant's roof was virtually destroyed.

And although many expressed fears for their jobs in the light of the blaze, company bosses were keen to reassure their workers that positions would be safe.

“Staff are obviously concerned, but we have told them that as soon as we can get back into the building, we will,” said Colin Perry, financial and site director.

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“We have a good team spirit here, and our employees' job security is fine.

“We are committed to this company, this location and taking this business forward, and we are determined to get back up and running as soon as we can.

“We have invested a lot of money during the last three to four years in expanding the site, and are keen to get up to speed as soon as we can.

“We may also look at deploying some staff to our second site in Hertfordshire.

“In some respects we have been fortunate, as quite a lot of our stock is off site because of the build up to Christmas, which will help in the short term.

“Then, we will have to make sure our other site in Hertfordshire works around the clock to maintain supplies.

“I have been here nearly five years and to see the factory go up is gutting. I am very upset about it as we have spent a long time getting the company to where we want it to be.”

During the morning, plumes of thick, black smoke billowed across the A1101 and B1106 towards Fornham All Saints, and diversions were put in place by police.

And firecrews remained on site throughout the day, working into the evening to damp down hotspots within the devastated building.

But their earlier efforts were hampered by dangerous structures within the ageing Lamdin Road factory, which prohibited crews from entering the plant for several hours and forced them to concentrate on tackling the flames from above.

“The main problem with the food processing factory was its age, as the building contained sandwich panelling of two sheets of steel with combustible insulating material inside,” said Ken Seager, deputy chief fire officer for Suffolk.

“It burns ferociously and is extremely difficult to apply water to, and is notorious amongst firefighters as it can collapse suddenly and without warning.

“We took a very cautious approach and did not commit people inside the building because of the risk, as the collapse of this type of building previously caused the deaths of two firefighters in Worcestershire.”

Staff at the factory, which is owned by a Danish company and was formerly known as Lark Valley Foods, said they were shocked by the blaze which is suspected to have begun in a bacon smoker.

Brian Eley, who has worked at the company for 18 years and arrived at the factory at around 7am, said: “This is devastating and just awful.

“One of our engineers said he had seen flames and an awful lot of smoke over one of the bacon smokers, so it seems the fire started there and spread to the roof of the factory.

“It then spread across the whole plant, including the production area and into the storage for the cardboard boxes, which obviously went up very quickly.

“Staff are now wondering what is in store for them and what is going to happen. We are all worried.

“It is especially awful for this to happen at this time of year, as we are slicing between 250-300 tonnes of bacon every week and a lot of joints.

“We have been working seven days a week for the last few weeks just to meet the demand. Who is going to take over all that?”

The blaze came just one week after a similar incident at nearby Premier Foods, which produces Branston Pickle and Loyd Grossman sauces.

“It is just unbelievable, as this happened a week to the day after the factory at Premier Foods went down,” added Mr Eley, assistant to the production manager.

“Staff from here have been walking past and saying what a mess that site is, and now our premises has gone the same way.”

Fire investigators are now set to carry out a probe into the exact cause of yesterday's blaze.

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