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Yuengling Brewery fire ‘could have been far, far, far worse’

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Published:   |   Updated: October 27, 2013 at 11:17 AM

The fire that caused an estimated $1 million damage to the Yuengling Brewery on Saturday night wasn’t as bad as it looked and will have no effect on the brewing operations or distribution, the plant manager said Sunday morning.

“The fire looked a lot worse than it really was,” said Jim Helmke, speaking from the scene.

Tampa fire marshal investigators looking into the massive blaze at the Yuengling Brewery on North 30th Street said the fire appeared to be accidental and have concluded their investigation. On Sunday, they turned the site over to adjusters and investigators with the brewery’s insurance company.

Helmke said the fire started several stories up in an exterior wall and most of the damage was confined to that wall, he said. Flames never reached inside and never damaged any of the beer in storage there.

“None of the product was jeopardized,” he said.

“It will be business as usual on Monday morning,” he said. “We are very fortunate. It does look bad. There is a gaping hole and charred remains, but there is no internal damage, except for the hole in the wall.”

He said about 70 people work in the brewery and none of the employees working at the time of the fire was injured. No one will lose work time because of the fire, he said.

“Though there is some damage, it’s nothing we can’t work around and continue to make beer,” Helmke said. “Fires are bad, but this could have been far, far, far worse.”

He said it appeared the fire started in an isolated portion of the outside wall in a part of the building that is “very old and very high up.”

He said once the fire reached the top, it ignited 60-year-old timbers that were used to support the building’s facade.

That’s why, from the street, it appeared the entire five-story building was on fire, but in reality, it was just the outside wall.

Fire damage to the structure itself accounted for the most of the estimated loss, fire officials said.

One firefighter was slightly injured and hospitalized. He was treated and later released.

Tampa police and firefighters arrived at the brewery and found flames leaping from the roof of the five-story storage portion of the plant and described the building as being “engulfed in flames.”

About 60 firefighters were called to battle the two-alarm fire. Many climbed five stories to enter the building where they were met with dense smoke and high-heat conditions. Firefighters inside were evacuated and the fire-fighting strategy changed to using multiple aerial ladder trucks, dumping water onto the flames from outside. It took about an hour to bring the fire under control, officials said, though firefighters continued attempts to reach hot spots and burning embers around the third story of the building between the exterior and interior wall.

All the workers in the building, at 11111 N. 30th St, were evacuated safely, fire officials said, and no brewery workers were injured.

Yuengling is the oldest brewer operating in the United States and one of the largest American-owned beer makers, distributing millions of barrels yearly across the East Coast. Its original brewery in Pottsville, Pa., was founded in 1829. The company opened this second facility in the former Stroh’s brewery near Busch Gardens in 1999.

The half-century-old brewery originally was owned by Schlitz. Yuengling bought it in April 1999 three months after Stroh’s shut it down. Prior to that it had been a Pabst brewery.

kmorelli@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7760

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