300K chickens perish in Utah county egg farm fire

Posted at 6:21 PM, Sep 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-06 18:21:50-04

Tooele County, UT (KSL) — More than 300,000 chickens died in a massive fire at the Fassio Egg Farms on Tuesday morning.

A maintenance employee spotted flames inside a chicken coop around 7:30 a.m., according to Corby Larsen, vice president of operations at the farm.

The fire quickly engulfed the first building, one of the farm’s largest chicken coops, and spread to a second coop. Each one houses about 120,000 to 150,000 chickens, Larsen said.

“Unfortunately, if the fire gets in those, it moves very quickly,” he added.

Multiple crews were on-site fighting the fire at 3044 W. Erda Way, including a helicopter. The fire raged for more than six hours before firefighters got it under control around 1:30 p.m.

Shifting winds and limited access to water caused trouble for firefighters, North Tooele Fire Marshal John Stout said. Water tanks at the farm didn’t have enough water, he said, and the generator powering the water pumps was dangerously close to the flames.

Nearly 150,000 to 200,000 gallons of water were transported to the site via water tankers and air support, said Ryan Willden, spokesman for the North Tooele Fire District.

“We were way underpowered in the amount of water we had,” Willden said. “Water in small communities like this is definitely a big challenge for us.”

Officials were undable to provide a damage estimate Tuesday. The two destroyed coops were at the end of a conveyor belt assembly line, Willden said. The conveyor belt transported eggs from the farthest coop to the warehouse, and the fire destroyed the two coops closest to the warehouse.

The biggest problem the farm faces now is caring for the surviving hens and eggs in the other coops.

“They do have water to those buildings, and they’re working on getting power restored to make sure they have proper ventilation,” Willden said.

Sage Mountain, a nonprofit farm animal sanctuary in Summit County in Utah, sent a letter to the farm offering to relocate hens who survived the fire.

“While we only have the resources to provide a good home for a handful of chickens who survived this inferno, for these individuals, it will make a world of difference. They deserve the chance to live the remainder of their lives in peace,” said Lauren Lockey, co-founder of Sage Mountain.

The fire started in mechanical or electrical equipment that deals with manure, Larsen said.

All employees were accounted for and no injuries were reported. The farm employs 50 people, according to the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.

Larry Lewis, spokesman with the department, said the Fassio farm in Tooele County is one of six facilities the agency inspects.

The farm features 10 laying houses and is a significant player in the state’s egg production industry.

It is too early to tell what impact the loss of the farm may have on egg production in the state – which in 2015 was valued at $200 million.

Most eggs produced in Utah are consumed within the state, but many eggs lost in the fire were bound for California, he added.

“Most are local eggs you see in the stores,” he said. “The number of eggs produced in Utah are enough for one person to have an egg a day.”

Travis Weller, the agency’s director of regulatory services, said the Fassio farm is one of the biggest producers in the state. The agency has five employees who rotate through the facility to cover shifts throughout the week, a requirement of the U.S. Department of Agriculture for egg producers.

Fassio Egg Farms started with three employees in 1945, according to the company’s website. Products include conventional, white eggs and organic, cage-free, brown eggs.