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Locked, Blocked Exits Blamed for Chicken Plant Fire Deaths

<i> From Associated Press</i>

Most of the people who were killed or hurt in a fire that swept through a food-processing plant had tried to escape through exits that were locked or blocked, a state investigator said Friday.

The findings were sent to a prosecutor for a possible criminal investigation.

Two fire exits could not be used Tuesday during the fire, which killed 25 people and injured at least 55 others at the Imperial Food Products chicken-processing plant, said Tim Bradley, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Insurance.

Bradley’s report said the plant lacked automatic heat-detection sprinkler systems, its fire doors failed to meet national safety standards and the sprawling building had just one fire extinguisher. The plant also lacked an evacuation plan, the report said.

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Twelve of those killed had tried escaping through a door that was locked and then through a loading dock that was blocked, the report said. They wound up in a cooler that had no exit. Their bodies were found in the cooler, and three more bodies were found just outside.

Another three bodies were found at a loading dock that was blocked by a truck. One body was found in another freezer, and six more were found near that freezer door.

“What we have is a combination of rapidly moving fire and individuals inside incapable of finding a means of egress,” Bradley said. “The combination of the rapid growth of this fire and the open layout of the building resulted in a narrow window of time for occupants to safely evacuate.”

Mayor Abbie Covington asked Bradley to investigate the fire, and she gave his report to the Richmond County district attorney.

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“I don’t want this issue glossed over,” Covington said. “If there are sufficient grounds for criminal charges, I want them filed. I’m sure the families of the people that died want something to be done.”

Dist. Atty. Carroll Lowder could not be reached for comment.

The plant’s only fire extinguishing system was in the hood of the fryer where the fire began, Bradley said.

“It was not designed to handle fire that developed outside the cooker, as this one did,” he said.


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