A month since fire ravaged a deli meat warehouse, officials now say demolition at the site is almost done.
Dietz & Watson officials say the warehouse has been imploded and only the front office portions of the facility remain. Demolition of the final section is set to begin within the next few days.
Last week, the last of the 35 million pounds of rotten meat was hauled off. Neighbors nearby had to deal with the foul, putrid stench.
"It smelled like rotting bodies," said John Pfisterer of Delanco, N.J. "Not that I know what that smells like."
Dietz & Watson officials hired BioTriad Environmental, Inc. of Stroudsburg, Pa. to deal with the smell left over from the Labor Day blaze at the warehouse off Coopertown Road in Delanco, N.J. Since then, Pfisterer says the smell has slightly improved.
Dietz & Watson CEO Louis Eni said crews worked tirelessly -- hauling more than 300 truckloads weighing up to 20 tons of rotting meat and debris to area landfills -- but he understands it wasn't quick enough for neighbors who dealt with the smell coming from the remains of the nearly five-football fields long distribution center.
In the company’s release they referred to their plan to “neutralize the foul odor that has been plaguing the Greater Delanco community as a result of the company’s (fire).”
"…Though that process is moving more quickly than ever, it has become clear that we must provide some relief to the families who live in close proximity to the fire site," Eni said. "That is why we have contracted with odor-control experts to deal with this unpleasant reality that is significantly impacting the quality of life for many people."
Earlier, Enis said, "I want them to know we understand fully what they are going through... Our primary concern is to get the site cleaned up."
BioTriad crews arrived at the site in September with a promise that neighbors would begin to “experience noticeable relief not long after we begin to treat the site,” according to BioTriad owner and field operations manager Warren Planker.
Planker laid out his plan to combat the stench with a cocktail they’ve used at landfills and other sites.
“Our company uses an odor neutralizing blend of natural, biodegradable plant extracts diluted with water to form what we call an odor neutralizing solution," he said.
The stench assaulted folks in nearby towns for several days.
“I actually had to cover my face to bring my dog outside. Yes, it was that putrid,” said Kathy Morgan, who lives more than a mile away in Beverly. “It’s horrible, it’s just horrible and they are saying that it’s OK for us to breathe, but I don’t believe it.”
Officials continue to insist the smell, though unpleasant, isn’t toxic. That wasn't enough to ease the concerns of residents who have dealt with the odor however.
"I think our big problem was and what we don't really understand is how long they waited," said Laurie Pfisterer. "To leave rotting meat sitting in the sun, thousands of pounds of it in 90 degree heat for two weeks."
Steve Aaron, a spokesperson for Dietz & Watson, says the magnitude of the blaze and dangers of flare ups caused by solar panels hindered firefighting efforts as well as the cleanup.
It took firefighters more than 24 hours to get the 11-alarm blaze at the 266,000-square-foot distribution center under control in part because of the hazards caused by solar panels installed on the gutted structure. In the coming days firefighters returned to the site multiple times to douse flare ups and hot spots at the site.
"Those solar panels prevented us from getting access to the building until September 11," Aaron said.
According to Aaron, emergency crews delayed cleanup until the site was safe.
Last week, Burlington County Freeholder Director Joe Donnelly announced that all of the meat was removed.
"I cannot over state how significant this progress is, just last week it was estimated that this task could take up to eight weeks to complete," he wrote in a released statement. "With Dietz & Watson leading the way, all 35 million pounds of the odor producing material will have been removed in less than two weeks! I want to thank our residents so much for their patience and support in this difficult time."