Fire kills 240,000 chickens at one of nation's largest egg farms

Fire kills 240,000 chickens at one of nation's largest egg farms
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A fire that swept through a Florida farm operated by one of the nation’s largest egg producers early Thursday killed as many as 240,000 chickens. 

According to The Associated Press, the Pasco County fire department arrived at the Cal-Maine Foods farm located about 40 miles north of Tampa around 1 a.m. Three barns each containing about 80,000 chickens caught fire. 

The Tampa Bay Times reported that two of the barns were completely lost in the blaze, which grew in intensity following the explosion of propane tanks at the site. 

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The Tampa news outlet added there were no injuries reported and fire officials are continuing investigations into the cause of the fire. 

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Cal-Maine, based in Mississippi, has farms across the country and says on its website that it is the largest producer and distributor of shell eggs in the U.S., selling under brands including Egg-Land’s Best and Land O’ Lakes.

In the 2020 fiscal year, the company reported that it had sold more than 1,000 million shell eggs from more than 50 million chickens, accounting for roughly 19 percent of domestic shell egg consumption. 

Max Bowman, chief financial officer and vice president of Cal-Maine, told the Times Thursday that the Dade City farm only contains pullets, or young birds that have not yet started producing eggs. 

He added that roughly two to three percent of the company’s pullets were lost in Thursday’s fire, which he said should not prove to be significantly detrimental to the company’s overall production.

“We’re fully insured,” Bowman said, adding that he was grateful to the local emergency teams and Cal-Maine’s internal team for responding to the fire.

According to a report released this week by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), more than 1.6 million farm animals, including nearly 1.3 million cage-free hens, have died in barn fires so far this year that the group said were “potentially preventable.” 

The report added that “while the cause of most fires is unknown, many are believed to result from electrical malfunctions or improperly placed or faulty heating devices.”

“It is completely unacceptable for the industry to tolerate massive numbers of animals burning to death when there are effective fire prevention and suppression strategies available,” Dena Jones, farm animal program director for AWI, said in a press release announcing the report.