NBC10.com - Cydney Long
Weeks after a massive fire at the Dietz & Watson warehouse, residents who live nearby say the smell of rotten meat and burnt debris is still hard to stomach. NBC10’s Cydney Long finds out what officials plan to do and whether the smell is causing a health hazard for neighbors.
The CEO of Dietz & Watson has a message for neighbors who are fed up with the odor of burned and rotting meat in the aftermath of a massive warehouse fire.
"I want them to know we understand fully what they are going through," Louis Eni said. "Our primary concern is to get the site cleaned up."
On September 1, a fire burned down the Dietz & Watson cold storage facility on Cooperstown Road in Delanco, Burlington County, NJ.
The fire caused the roof, lined with thousands of solar panels, to collapse within hours. Thick, black smoke could be seen billowing from the facility miles away.
More than 200 firefighters from Burlington, Mercer, Gloucester, Camden and Atlantic Counties were brought to the distribution center, which is about 300,000 square feet -- roughly the size of five football fields.
By the next morning, the blaze continued to burn as water issues, the threat of electrocution and other factors hindered firefighting efforts. While fire officials were finally able to contain the blaze early that evening, they also said it would likely continue to smolder for days.
Crews spent Sunday sorting rotten meat from the melted steal at the scene of the fire, even as hot spots continued to flare up.
Some neighbors say the stench has invaded the entire area.
“Rotting meat…just rotting meat…flesh smell, just burning,” said Brian Iwanicki of Delanco.
Kathy Morgan, who lives more than a mile away in Beverly, can smell it too.
“I actually had to cover my face to bring my dog outside. Yes, it was that putrid,” said Morgan. ““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.”
Tara Howard says her children have had asthma trouble ever since the fire.
“The smell was almost a hazard. My youngest has asthma, and it was hard for him to breathe a couple of nights in there,” said Howard.
Residents living near the fire scene say they are also frustrated by the pace of the clean-up.
Dietz and Watson officials say they only got full access to the site for clean-up on Wednesday. The company says it sent out more than 30 truckloads of rotten meat from the site on Saturday.
On Monday, Eni claimed the cleanup is 25% complete and that so far 2 million of the roughly 8 million pounds of meat have been hauled off to a landfill.
The company says tests show the air is safe, even if it smells. A county engineer overseeing the cleanup insists tests for carbon monoxide and any volatile organic compounds are negative.
"There have been no indications, based on all the tests, that there are any hazards," he said.
But Kathy Morgan says she is not convinced.
“I'm not convinced. I've had my windows closed,” said Morgan.
And there is still the issue of flare-ups at the plant since the original blaze.
“If you look at it now…it’s just flaring now, thick black smoke,” one neighbor told NBC10’s George Spencer.
Dietz and Watson officials were granted extended landfill hours but are being careful in order to not place cleanup crews in harm's way.
"The fire is still smoldering," Eni said. "There are still hot spots so they can't get into the center of the building where the fires are burning. So they are working all around the outside of the building and moving as much as they can and as fast as they can."
Dietz & Watson created a telephone message center and a Twitter handle for residents to receive updated information on the cleanup process. You can call their message center at 215-668-9749. You can also following them at @DelancoCleanup on Twitter.
In four separate incidents after the blaze, firefighters returned to the scene to hose down part of the smoldering rubbish.
The incidents, however, paled in comparison to the original blaze which gutted the facility.