Thursday, February 22, 2018
Public safety

Tampa brewery gets back to business despite $1M fire damage

TAMPA — A fire at the Yuengling brewery that caused $1 million in damage may have been caused by a welder working to replace an old fire escape, the company said Sunday.

Flames that leapt from the roof Saturday night made for much drama, but Jim Helmke, Yuengling's director of operations in Tampa, said the brewery would be opened as normal today and most of the damage was confined to walls and ceiling. The plant employs about 70 people.

"The fire itself was very dramatic and very frightening," Helmke said. "But none of the beer, none of the product was jeopardized at all. Nothing will prevent us from operating normally. Nobody here will lose an hour of work over this. It could have been much worse. We're very fortunate."

Tampa Fire Rescue officials said the fire at the 1950s-era brewery near Busch Gardens was accidental. One firefighter suffered a minor injury and was treated and released at a hospital, fire officials said. Helmke said a firefighter slipped and may have injured his knee.

Two Yuengling employees were in the plant when the fire broke out about 8 p.m. Saturday. But they were not injured.

Firefighters arrived at the brewery, 11111 N 30th St., to find a section of the building's roof and side in flames.

Firefighters could not get to the flames from inside, so two ladder trucks sprayed it from the outside. A police helicopter overhead provided guidance to firefighters on the ground. About 60 Tampa fire personnel responded to the blaze, which was mostly under control by just after 9 p.m.

Helmke said a welder probably triggered the blaze when old beams in the wall were heated and began smoldering. He said the smoldering may have gone unnoticed for several hours before the wall burst into flames. The walls are made of 50-year-old timbers, he said.

D.G. Yuengling & Son Inc., founded in 1829, bills itself as the oldest brewer in the United States. It also operates a brewery in Pottsville, Pa. The company bought the Tampa facility in 1999 from Stroh Brewing Co.

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