A daylong fire

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Former packing plant burns, causing extensive damage

By Jason Norman

Several local fire units spent much of Tuesday at the former Smithfield Foods Packing Plant on Virginia Ham Drive near Portsmouth Boulevard after a fire broke out on the roof and thunderstorms kept firefighters from doing their job.

Email newsletter signup

&uot;When the lightning started popping, we had to pull folks off,&uot; said Capt. Jim Judkins, spokesman for the Suffolk Fire Department.

Around 10:30 a.m., a call came that a worker

using a torch to cut some pipes had inadvertently set the roof on fire, which was aided by the roof’s insulation. By the time the crews arrived, the roof had been compromised by the fire, making it unsafe for the nearly 30 firefighters at the scene to climb on it, Judkins said.

&uot;We knew this was a defensive fire from the start,&uot; said Judkins, who said that he could see the smoke from downtown. &uot;We didn’t put anyone inside the building; we tried to keep it from spreading.&uot;

No one was injured, he said.

The building, which housed the Joel E. Harrell packing plant before Smithfield took it over, is in the process of being turned into a storage facility, said Judkins, who estimated the damage at $350,000.

Though the fire was under control before noon, Tuesday’s storms kept firefighters from working, as did the location of the fire; the cork insulation made flare-ups possible. Firefighters finally left just before 6 p.m.

&uot;We’ll have to get to it by either pulling out the wall section, or working from above off a ladder,&uot; Judkins said earlier.

&uot;After the roof burned, we lost the ability to cut it up. We’ll probably pull the wall out.&uot;