SCHUYLER, Neb. – A fire and an ammonia leak forced Cargill to close its Schuyler, Neb. beef processing plant on Feb. 6. No one was injured.

In an e-mailed statement, Mike Martin, director of communications, said that at approximately 3:40 a.m. CST, employees noticed the faint odor of ammonia during the third shift, which involves sanitation and equipment maintenance. The plant was evacuated, and all ammonia flow was shut off. Smoke and a small fire were discovered approximately 15 minutes later in a crawl space between the ceiling and the roof above a section of the fabrication floor. Three local fire departments responded to the incident and were able to extinguish the fire.

“The primary damage to the facility is the heating/cooling unit on the roof that was apparently involved with both the ammonia leak and fire, and some insulation,” Martin said. “At this point in time, damage is still being assessed and it appears as though there is little, or no, damage to product. There were no injuries.
“The natural-gas fueled unit that was involved is located on the roof and is responsible for both refrigeration and for removing condensation in the plant,” Martin added. “It was serviced within the past 30 days. The cause of the leak and fire is under investigation.”

More than 2,100 people work at the Schuyler beef processing facility, processing approximately 5,000 head of cattle each day. Both beef production shifts were canceled, but no decision has been made to implement Saturday shifts to make for lost production, Martin said.

“Cargill management at the plant will be working with USDA to determine when the plant will resume production, which could be as early as first shift tomorrow (Friday),” he said.