Farmland Foods Fire timeline

Published 9:17 am Friday, July 8, 2011

• July 8, 2001, 5 p.m.: Firefighters and police were called to a fire at Farmland Foods.

• July 8, 2001, 5:30 p.m.: The fire caught in the roof of the building and spread across other buildings. Firefighters sounded an all call.

• July 8, 2001, 10 p.m.: The fire had engulfed at least three floors of the building. Before 11 p.m., departments began hauling water to the scene with tanker trucks.

Email newsletter signup

• July 9, 2001, morning: Upper floors within the building had collapsed.

• July 9, 2001: Firefighters continued to fight the fire at the plant.

• July 10, 2001: Only a few hot spots remained at the site.

• July 10, 2001: Hundreds of Farmland workers filed for unemployment at the Albert Lea Union Center.

• July 10, 2001: Albert Lea Fire Chief Richard Sydnes confirmed that sparks from a cutting torch started the blaze. Contractors were cutting ceiling sprinkler pipes in preparation for a plant expansion. Sparks flew into cardboard boxes and timbers.

• July 11, 2001: A community meeting was held at Albert Lea City Hall with local and state leaders. Officials offered assistance to Farmland Foods if the company wanted to rebuild the plant.

• July 12, 2001: Farmland corporate officials said they were still waiting for a full damage assessment from the fire.

• July 13, 2001: Farmland officials told employees the Albert Lea plant would be out of commission for a year or more and may be damaged beyond repair.

• July 14, 2001: Initial efforts of demolition begin at the facility, though additional hot spots ended up slowing efforts.

• July 29, 2001: The Southeastern Minnesota Workforce Development Center announced it had applied for a grant to fund retraining for people unemployed from the fire.

• Aug. 9, 2001: The Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed to provide almost $13,000 in emergency assistance to meet immediate utility, rent and mortgage needs of eligible Farmland Foods workers.

• Aug. 14, 2001: A countywide benefit was held to raise money for former Farmland Foods employees.

• Aug. 20, 2001: Farmland Foods officials announced their intentions to build a new 400,000 square-foot plant by Oct. 1. If Albert Lea could put together a package for the plant, officials stated Albert Lea would have an inside track on landing the new plant, though other locations were possibilities.

• Aug. 24, 2001: Farmland announced it would temporarily reopen a pork processing plant in Carroll, Iowa, to make up for losses at the Albert Lea plant.

• Aug. 31, 2001: Employees’ health insurance benefits expired.

• Sept. 2001: The city offered land to Farmland in Habben’s industrial park and began talks about establishing a tax-increment financing district for the site.

• Sept. 2001: City leaders announced plans to acquire the old Farmland site in exchange for giving the company new land in the south industrial park.

• Dec. 10, 2001: The city put pressure on Farmland to decide whether it would take a deal with the city. The council called a hearing to assess the situation and order the demolition of the structure if the property were found hazardous or substandard.

• January 2002: Unemployment benefits for Farmland workers begin expiring.

• Jan. 15, 2002: The Albert Lea City Council approved an order that the Farmland Foods plant be demolished by the end of the year.

• March 9, 2002: President George W. Bush signed an economic stimulus bill that included a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits.

• April 3, 2002: Farmland announced it would rebuild in Albert Lea if its insurance claims and economic incentives were resolved.

• May 21, 2002: Gov. Jesse Ventura signed a bill that authorized a 26-week extension of unemployment benefits for Farmland employees laid off after the fire.

• May 30, 2002: Farmland Industries Inc. filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

• June 4, 2002: City Manager Paul Sparks said the city had escrowed $2.2 million from insurance proceeds paid to Farmland.

• July 30, 2002: Sparks said Farmland had tentatively hired a contractor to tear down the buildings.

• Oct. 8, 2002: Bankruptcy court in Kansas City granted a motion to go ahead with the demolition. The deal gave the city $3 million from Farmland’s insurance companies to pay for the demolition, and the city in turn got the deed to the property and was responsible for environmental cleanup of the site.

• Jan. 24, 2003: City officials said demolition of the former plant would be completed by the end of spring or beginning of summer.

— Information from Albert Lea Tribune archives