Will Dietz & Watson Rebuild Warehouse in Delanco?

By David Chang
|  Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013  |  Updated 8:26 PM EDT
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NBC10's Cydney Long is in Delanco where area firefighters have gathered to discuss how the Dietz & Watson fire happened and how to prevent such a blaze in the future.

NBC10 - Cydney Long

NBC10's Cydney Long is in Delanco where area firefighters have gathered to discuss how the Dietz & Watson fire happened and how to prevent such a blaze in the future.

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The smell may have improved in Delanco, New Jersey. But now residents are holding their breath for a different reason as Dietz & Watson officials work to decide whether they will rebuild their warehouse in the Burlington County town.

On September 1, the fire broke out at the Dietz & Watson cold storage facility on Cooperstown Road. 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.

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In late September, the last of the 35 million pounds of rotten meat was hauled off the site. Neighbors nearby had to deal with the foul, putrid stench. Dietz & Watson officials hired BioTriad Environmental, Inc. of Stroudsburg, Pa. to deal with the smell. Residents say the smell has slightly improved.

Around 100 workers are back on the job at Dietz & Watson’s Philadelphia facility. With demolition of the Delanco site more than 75% complete, Dietz & Watson officials must now decide whether they will rebuild the facility in the Burlington County community, which has benefited heavily from the warehouse.

“Dietz & Watson’s preference of course is to rebuild at the existing site” said spokesman Steve Aaron. “But we need to let insurance companies do their investigations. We don’t even have a cause of the fire yet. Until insurance companies complete their investigation, it’s really premature to make an announcement to rebuild. We’re just not at that point.”

Locals say the town’s economy is already feeling the impact in the wake of the fire. Delivery trucks are no longer hitting the road, especially along Route 130, which impacts local gas stations and eateries.

“All truckers coming to town stop along 130 to eat at Burger King, Arby’s, places like that,” said Delanco Township Fire Marshal Randy Johnson.

“Over the years, we’ve lost a lot in this town,” said Brian Iwanicki, a Delanco resident. “The economy and trucking companies folded up and left. So a small town like we are, 3500 residents, we need as much as we can to make it affordable.”

As Dietz & Watson officials work towards making a decision, firefighters are also working on finding the cause, which they say is difficult due to how widespread the damage was.

“There’s too much damage,” Johnson said. “So much damage to the building that finding stuff is the hard thing.”

Tuesday night, officials also trained first responders in dealing with solar panels, which heavily delayed efforts to put out the warehouse fire.

“It’s something that should have been done years ago,” Johnson said.

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