Egg plant fire kills nearly 1 million chickens

By Liliana Castillo: Freedom New Mexico

Nearly a million chickens died in Thursday’s fire at Cal-Maine Foods in Parmer County, Texas, a company spokesperson said today.

Delores McMillin with Cal-Maine Foods said 800,000 chickens in five houses were wiped out by the fire and smoke.

Four laying houses, chickens and all, were consumed by the fire. The remaining chickens were lost due to smoke inhalation.

“We’re still very much in the middle of seeing what happened and where we go from here,” McMillin said from Cal-Maine’s headquarters in Jackson, Miss.

The Cal-Maine egg plant is near U.S. Highway 60 and Farm to Market Road 3333 in Parmer County.

Parmer County Sheriff Randy Geries said the fire at Cal-Maine was reported at about 5:30 p.m. CDT. Within minutes, several buildings on the property were engulfed with flame, he said.

Geries said gusty winds and wood construction of the buildings allowed the fire to move from building to building in a short period of time.

“The buildings were pretty close together by the way the place is designed which allowed the fire to move a little quicker than it normally would,” he said. “It was a substantial loss.”

Officials with Cal-Maine Foods have not released the amount of financial loss suffered from the fire.

At capacity, the Farwell complex accounts for approximately three to four percent of the company’s weekly production, according to a Cal-Maine news release. The release stated that all of Cal-Maine’s facilities are fully insured for their replacement value, including the estimated loss of production.

Geries said the fire was under control about 8:30 p.m. CDT Thursday.

Geries said firefighters remained on scene through out the night and into Friday.

No injuries were reported, but the sheriff said four firefighters were taken to various hospitals for smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion. The firefighters were released soon after they were treated.

Cal-Maine officials said an investigation is underway to determine the origin of the fire, but Geries said he believes it was accidental.

Cal-Maine officials said during construction in 2007 they expected the plant to house about 1.5 million laying hens in nine laying houses. Those chickens were expected to produce more than 1 million eggs per day.

It took firefighters more than three hours to contain the blaze, which could be seen from Clovis, more than 20 miles away.

After gaining control of the fire, crews let the engulfed structures burn and moved debris away from free-standing buildings, the sheriff said. Geries said the smoldering buildings burned out during the night.

Fire departments from Bovina, Friona, Farwell, Muleshoe, Pleasant Hill, Texico, Clovis and Cannon Air Force Base responded.

Cal-Maine has operations in 15 states. It is the largest producer and distributor of fresh shell eggs in the United States and sells most of its shell eggs in approximately 28 states. Its eggs are mainly marketed under Egg-Land’s Best and Farmhouse.