Firefighters battle blaze at TreatCo, site of 2011 fire

04/11/2013 6:22 PM

04/11/2013 9:32 PM

Wichita fire crews battled a two-alarm fire Thursday at the TreatCo building complex – site of a June 2011 fire that smoldered for 10 days.

The building’s owners called 911 shortly after 2:30 p.m. Thursday.

When firefighters arrived at the pet-food maker and former meat-packing plant in the 2300 block of North Broadway, heavy black smoke was pouring from a white cinder-block building.

Capt. Stuart Bevis, spokesman for the Wichita Fire Department, said the owners had been welding – salvaging and cutting steel I-beams – at the building when sparks ignited combustible materials and the building’s Styrofoam insulation.

“They tried to put it out but it got out of control,” Bevis said. “They called 911 and everyone got out safe.” Four people were inside the building at the time of the fire.

“When crews got here, they found heavy smoke showing from the building,” Bevis said. “They started to make entry to try to access the point of fire but then, at one point, we realized we had some water supply issues and they pulled out.”

Firefighters on two Wichita Fire Department ladder trucks aimed water hoses at the roof in an attempt to get water to the smoke and flames. Police controlled and directed traffic on 21st Street and Broadway.

“For the most part, we have structural issues with this building,” Bevis said. “Due to the last fire, there has been a lot of structural collapse. And some parts of the building are not safe.”

Thursday afternoon, Bevis said fire crews would not enter the building until the smoke had disappeared and they could see to enter. By 6 p.m., firefighters had the fire under control but were staying to monitor the scene into the night.

The heavy black smoke is toxic, Bevis said, from burning Styrofoam and combustible wallboard.

He encouraged people not to inhale it, if they could avoid it. “It is a hydrocarbon base,” he said. “You don’t want any part of it – it is all bad.”

Some of the smoke could also be from animal products left in the building years ago, Bevis said. He described the building complex as honeycombed in that some of the upper stories are connected and lead to other buildings where the animal materials remain.

In June 2011, fire crews let the fire burn itself out after scores of bins with scorched animal bones and parts began burning in the second and third floors of TreatCo’s central building.

In January 2012, The Eagle reported that the complex had no gas, electricity or windows. The plant manager, Ken Thomas, said then that he had installed steel pipes to support the ceiling in one section as workers were going to salvage and haul away debris to restart production.

Last year, Thomas filed a civil suit with the city, contending that when the fire began in June 2011, Wichita firefighters wouldn’t listen to him when he told them a high-pressure gas line needed to be turned off. When he attempted to turn the gas line off, he was wrestled to the ground, he told The Eagle.

Before the fire in 2011, the company had 45 to 50 workers who produced dog biscuits, cookies, jerky treats and things like bones and pig ears for treats.

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