Thomas Foods International fire, Murray Bridge | video, photos

Uncertainty remains high for the 1400 employees of Thomas Foods International (TFI) put out of work by Wednesday's fire at the company's Murray Bridge meatworks.

The company has pledged to support its workforce, including by providing some work at its Lobethal abattoir.

Employees will also be paid next Thursday as normal.

But beyond that, the future is less clear.

Leading boning room hand Eric Baker started at the meat works in 1993, straight out of high school, and said it was all he had ever known.

He did not like the idea of trying to start a new career in his 40s, but hoped a couple of people might be able to hook him up with some short-term work.

He said the people at the support centre at Murray Bridge Town Hall had been helpful.

"They don't have answers yet, but they're going to help us, they're going to finish the pay week off - that's a start," he said.

"They've come out and said our jobs are secure, they will rebuild."

How it happened

A catastrophic fire at Thomas Foods' giant meat works in South Australia was innocently started, authorities have said.

The Metropolitan Fire Service's Phil Kilsby explained a worker, who was maintaining an offal bin, sparked the multi-million dollar blaze.

The fire began around 7pm on Wednesday, January 3, and quickly engulfed the meat works' boning room, recently part of a multi-million dollar upgrade, and much of its storage area.

All employees were safely evacuated, but the factory's largest building was destroyed.

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Murray Valley Standard journalist Peri Strathearn went live from the meat works on Wednesday evening. Watch the video below:

The fire, which needed the attention of 100 firefighters at its peak, was still burning the next day. See the Murray Valley Standard’s rolling coverage of the fire here.

HEAT: Battling the Thomas Foods International fire. Photo: CFS Promotions Unit.

HEAT: Battling the Thomas Foods International fire. Photo: CFS Promotions Unit.

The nature of the fire allowed fire crews to “attack” the blaze, saving “tens of millions of dollars of facilities”, according to Metropolitan Fire Service assistant chief fire officer Roy Thompson.

Although it’s still too early to confirm the cost of the damage to Murray Bridge’s biggest employer, the cost is estimated at millions. 

Thomas Foods International hosted a press conference at its Adelaide headquarters to discuss the fire on Thursday, January 4. Watch the video below:

By noon Thursday, Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Leon Bignell and Minister for Emergency Services Chris Picton had toured parts of the fire-damaged facility.

TFI pledged on Thursday to support its workforce, including by providing some work at its Lobethal abattoir. Its 1400 employees will also be paid next Thursday (January 11) as normal.

Beyond that, the future is unclear. Read some of the workers’ reactions here.

By Friday morning, a 24-hour support hotline – 1800 302 787 – began operating for workers and others affected by the fire.

Murray Valley Standard journalist Peri Strathearn spoke with South Australian emergency relief services manager Paul Reardon on Friday. Watch the video below:

Federal MP for Barker Tony Pasin pledged to work with colleagues to ensure Australia’s government was ready to assist in any way.

“Fourteen hundred workers and their families remain uncertain about what the future holds and I understand that this is a stressful time,” he said.

“I want them to know that I stand with them and that they will be supported.”

To see readers' photos of the fire, click on the photo above. Photo: Benjamin Gabb

To see readers' photos of the fire, click on the photo above. Photo: Benjamin Gabb

The Murray Bridge abattoir is TFI's largest, but it has smaller facilities at Lobethal; Tamworth, New South Wales; and Wallangarra, Queensland.

It is not yet clear what impact the fire will have on the company's hundreds of employees, a mix of locals and migrants on skilled work visas.

TFI is Australia's largest family-owned meat processing company, with an annual revenue in excess of $1 billion.