Tyson Foods announced Monday the company will rebuild the Holcomb meat processing plant damaged by a large fire over the weekend, paying full-time employees their normal rate for 40 hours a week until production at the plant resumes.

The plant, which is down indefinitely, will be rebuilt in the same location. Because officials are still assessing the damage, it is too early to establish a timeline, according to a news release from Tyson.

About 8:30 p.m. Friday night, the west end of the plant caught fire, burning through the night and into Saturday. The fire's cause and extent of the damages are still unknown, but a portion of the roof on the west wide of the building collapsed. No employees or first responders were injured.

The plant is Finney County’s largest employer, with about 3,800 employees, Tyson spokesman Worth Sparkman said Monday.

Those employees returned to the plant Monday for a series of company meetings and to begin cleaning up and clearing damage in the wake of the fire. Steve Stouffer, group president of Tyson Fresh Meats, said in the release that employees may be called over the coming weeks to work to help with “cleanup and other projects.”

Regardless of the number of hours employees work each week, full-time, active employees will be guaranteed their normal pay for 40 hours until production resumes, Sparkman said.

Birgit Lemke of Catholic Charities, which assists Tyson employees, including immigrants and refugees new to the city, said harvest and production employees tend to work about 40 hours a week, or about 48 hours if they take a Saturday shift.

Production at the plant will be moved to alternative sites, Stouffer said in the release, but Sparkman said he was not yet sure which sites will be used. He said he did not know whether Holcomb employees would have the opportunity to work at those alternative sites.

“Tyson Foods has built in some redundancy to handle situations like these and we will use other plants within our network to help keep our supply chain full,” Stouffer said in the release.

 

Support flows in

Support for Tyson employees continued to roll into Finney County over the weekend and on Monday. U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Great Bend, announced that he would visit Finney County on Tuesday to thank first responders who fought the fire. Holcomb Fire Chief Bill Knight said Kansas Rep. John Wheeler, R-Garden City, and Sen. John Doll, R-Garden City, will also be present.

After meeting with emergency responders Tuesday morning, Marshall will visit Kearny County Hospital in Lakin and tour a wind farm in Gray County, according to his staff.

“I want to thank Tyson for its commitment to rebuild its beef plant in Holcomb, Kan., following this weekend’s devastating fire. This is good news not only for the plant’s 3,500-plus employees but for Kansas farmers and ranchers. Tyson is a major employer in southwest Kansas, responsible for millions of dollars in payroll and economic impact annually,” Marshall said in a news release. “I am thankful no one was hurt, and will continue to keep first responders and Tyson employees on the forefront of my mind as rebuilding moves forward.”

Kansas State University also issued a statement saying the institution is “committed to supporting” students who may have been affected by the fire at the plant. The statement noted that the Office of Student Life will reach out to affected students.

Community members and organizations are also doing their part to help families. The Garden City High School football team hosted a car wash to raise money for Tyson employees on Sunday, and the Horace Good Middle School Hawk Pantry is accepting food donations to send home with families in need.

In anticipation of the need for food boxes for employees, the Salvation Army is hosting a food drive, and Finney County United Way is accepting monetary donations to help those affected by the fire.

 

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.