Blaze Now Out After Major Damage at South Bibb Plant

4:42 PM, May 1, 2013   |    comments
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A fire that caused major damage to the Pactiv egg-carton factory in south Bibb County appears to be out, although firefighters are expected to remain on the scene for hours.

Firefighters began rolling up fire hoses and backing off from the scene after noon.

But Macon-Bibb Fire Chief Marvin Riggins said he expects his crews will be on scene all day and all night.

The fire broke out at the Pactiv egg-carton factory in south Bibb County just before 6 a.m., gutting part of the building and bringing walls and parts of the roof crashing to the ground.

Earlier Wednesday, some fire officials said the building might be a total loss; but around noon, Riggins said they may have saved the eastern end of the building. The western end suffered the greatest damage.

Earlier today, flames and heavy black smoke poured through the roof of the factory at 7670 Airport Drive, near the Middle Georgia Regional Airport.

Riggins said 20 to 30 people were working in the building when the fire broke out. So far, no injuries are reported.

Around 8:45 a.m., firefighters pulled back from the plant after 10 to 15 explosions were heard inside.

Riggins said those explosions were probably acetylene cylinders.

The chief said he suspects the fire broke out in the center of the building. That's where egg cartons come rolling off the line.

The new cartons go through a "super oven" that heats the product, then gets stacked, he said.

He said that stacking area was "packed to the gills."

"There's a lot of product, a lot of product to burn," said Riggins.

The plant makes the egg cartons from recycled paper.

Smoke from the fire is visible for miles and being blown west by the winds.

Pactiv's website describes it as the world's largest manufacturer of food-service disposables and food packaging. 

The company is based in Lake Forest, Illinois.

Riggins says fires are "not uncommon" at this Pactiv plant, but it's the biggest one yet. He said Pactive has its own fire brigade.

Riggins called Pactiv "a good company" with no record of violations. He said the building is inspected regularly. 

The fire appeared to threaten employees' cars parked just outside the factory.

By 10 a.m. 11 fire units, a total of 60 firefighters, were on the scene. 

Riggins said that's about half the number of firefighters currently on duty.

Visibility is limited due to the smoke and fog in the Regional Airport area. Motorists are cautioned to slow down.

The fire is so intense, the smoke is visible on radar.

A company spokeswoman, Tori Berndt, would not comment on the fire. She would not describe what's made in the plant or comment on the number of employees there.

The company has several U.S. plants. One of them, in Moorhead, Minn., was hit by three fires in less than seven months last year. The biggest one was on March 15-16, 2012, and Moorhead's fire chief called it the biggest fire he'd seen in nearly 20 years.

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