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Updated: Fri, 18 Jul 2014 08:47:37 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Bonduelle plant on fire in Tecumseh, residents warned of smoke

At least three municipalities, including Windsor, are battling a massive fire at the former Green Giant plant in Tecumseh Katia Augustin/CBC News

At least three municipalities, including Windsor, are battling a massive fire at the former Green Giant plant in Tecumseh Katia Augustin/CBC News

Four municipalities, including Windsor, Ont., are battling a massive fire that started overnight at the Bonduelle food-processing plant in the nearby town of Tecumseh.

The fire broke out at the plant, which was originally Green Giant and has changed many hands since Bonduelle took it over, at 2 a.m. Friday. 

Windsor sent four units to the fire.

As a precaution, the Tecumseh Fire Department is asking residents in the area of the plant, at the intersection of Tecumseh Road and Lacasse Boulevard, to close all windows and doors.

"We’re telling people to stay away as much as they can," Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara said. "They have to fight it defensively because it’s so fully involved."

McNamara said at least 20 trucks are on scene.

Black smoke could be seen across the area, from as far away as west Windsor.

The roof has collapsed and damage is extensive. Fire officials said the roof collapsed one hour into fighting the fire.

Fire officials said the fire appears to have started in freezer section of the facility. They initially thought the cause was electrical fire, now they are not sure.

Gabrielle Blanchette was working in the plant when fire broke out.

“The Bonduelle staff, the supervisors, did a good job at keeping us safe,” she said. “At first, I thought it was contained. But around 6:30 a.m., it was huge, insane.

“It’s like seeing money burn and it doesn’t feel right.”

Kathy Arigan works in the freezer. She was scheduled to work at 6 a.m. Friday but received a call telling her all shifts were cancelled.

She came to the plant anyway.

“I needed to see the reality of this place. When you work here, you become a family. And when something happens you want to support them however you can,” she said.

Arigan described the scene as tragic and devastating.

“I truly do hope they can and do rebuild because this is a great facility, a great facility to work at,” she said.

'This is devastating'

The Tecumseh Fire Department said there were heavy flames and smoke, and the plant has been evacuated. Air monitoring is underway and will continue throughout the day, the department said.

No injuries have been reported.

Tecumseh Road East is closed at the rail crossing east of Lesperance Drive. Also closed is Tecumseh Road West, from Green Valley Drive.

McNamara says the Bonduelle plant in his municipality employs up to 700 people during peak production and is worth $40 million annually to the town. Another 450 farming  families across Ontario supply fruits and vegetables to the plant.

McNamara said the plant is currently processing peas, but they also process carrots, corn, rice and meal packs. 

"For years and years, they provided a lot of good jobs for our community. We’re devastated by the loss," McNamara said. "It's been here 80 years, providing good jobs for our community and certainly the region.

"This is devastating for the full-time employee. And we’re just on the upswing of the co-packing right now. They’re gearing up for full production."

McNamara said the president of Bonduelle is taking a flight from Quebec on Friday morning. A joint news conference including  town and company officials will be held later.

Maureen Facca, a nearby resident, watched the plant burn for the second time in her life.

She was a child when the plant went up in flames in the 1970s.

Green Giant owned the plant when it burned on Oct. 3, 1973. The fire caused $10,000,000 in damages, according to the Tecumseh Fire Department.

"I can’t believe it’s happening for a second time. It’s a large employer in the community and it’s important," Facca said. "Hopefully they stay in the community and can rebuild. You always know someone that’s working there."

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