Echo Lake workers digging out, looking to the future

CREATED Feb. 1, 2013

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BURLINGTON - Fire crews from over 80 departments battled the fire at the Echo Lake Foods plant in Burlington, and they are back on the scene tonight.

There is still smoke smoldering from the remains of this plant which is now encased in ice. Workers here had to spend hours digging out their cars, which were outside the plant when it caught fire.

Jesus Murillo tried to keep it together as he scrapped inches of ice off his car outside where he used to work. He tells me he was inside the echo lake food's plant when flames tore through the building.

“Something smelled bad and we go all the way out,” he said.

Murillo escaped with about 50 other workers. Three-hundred fire fighters fought the flames in the plant that's bigger than a football field.

When asked how he feels, Jerry Warntjes, the general manager of the plant, said he feels sadness.

“For the people that have been affected,” he said.

This is also an emotional day for Warntjes. The general manager said he's been working to figure out how he can help his employees. He says some will go to Franksville to work at the company's other plant…but there are only so many jobs.

“We’re going to try to do the best we can, we’re exploring our options for the future, so that all up in the air at this point, it's still too early to tell,” Warntjes added.

City leaders said they will do what it takes to keep one of the city's largest employers and its 300 jobs in Burlington, but the fight will take time.

Burlington City Administrator Kevin Lahner said they will explore all possibilities to keep Echo Lake in their town.

“We are familiar with some state credit programs which they will likely qualify for,” he said.

Fire investigators actually used a ladder truck today to take pictures from above the plant. They said because of ice they just can't get inside the plant right now.