Heavy smoke bellowed across Frankford for hours on Monday, May 15, as firefighters brought a large structure fire under control at Bunting & Bertrand Poultry Equipment.
The blaze was reported around 3:30 p.m. at the large warehouse and storefront, located at 15 Hickory Street.
The Frankford Volunteer Fire Company took the lead, assisted by volunteer companies from Dagsboro, Selbyville, Roxana, Bethany Beach, Millsboro, Millville, Gumboro, Indian River, Georgetown and Bishopville, Md.
The fire began in the rear of the building, said co-owner Dale Collins Jr. Employees were burning some cardboard when some embers escaped and ignited nearby combustible materials.
Nearby witnesses soon heard the “pops” of small propane canisters exploding.
Approaching 30 mph, the northwest wind pushed fire through the building, then flushed the smoke through the Frankford Town Park and surrounding neighborhood. The smoke flume was visible for miles on an otherwise clear and sunny day.
No civilians were injured, although some first-responders were slightly overcome by the elements in the five-hour incident. The fire was reported under control at 6:35 p.m., but people were on-scene until 8:45 p.m.
“They worked hard on it. They did all they could do,” Collins said. But the heat and the wind were stubborn. “When the wind was blowing, it was just black. You couldn’t see anything.”
The Office of the Delaware State Fire Marshal determined that the incident was accidental in nature. Total fire damage to the structure was estimated at $500,000. That does not include the business’s lost merchandise: repair parts for feed lines and drinking lines, computer systems, large feed-bin construction kits, two recent shipments worth of motors and more.
“It’s a big loss,” said Collins, who said he felt “devastated.” He said he hopes to rebuild, although it will take some time. There was no damage to the warehouse next door, topped with an iconic rooster sculpture.
Early on Tuesday morning, acrid smoke and even a few open flames still hovered over Hickory Street. Store employees arrived early to begin the massive cleanup effort. They tried to find anything worth salvaging. Some paper files were successfully dug out of a filling cabinet, but the pages were very hot, Collins said.
Faced with a massive pile of cinderblocks and smoking debris, employees pointed out where offices, the front counter, even the telephone, were located, just the day before.
The ruins would likely smolder for several days, fire personnel said.
Bunting & Bertram has been in business for more than 40 years. The building itself dates back to the 1920s, Collins said. People remembered when it was a feed packing mill that took advantage of the adjacent railroad line for shipping.
Frankford’s water tower was nearly drained by the incident, between the fire companies pulling from fire hydrants, toting their own water and finally connecting directly to a non-potable line at the water plant. Frankford finally took advantage of an emergency interconnect with neighboring Dagsboro’s water system.
All the stress on the system did cause a water main break nearby on Clayton Avenue, between Hickory Street and Honolulu Road. That was later repaired, said Greg Welch, town council member and water department liaison. There were still concerns about another potential leak after dark, since the tank level was still dropping. However, by Tuesday morning, the tank was slowly refilling.
The Frankford Volunteer Fire Company will also be holding a volunteer recruitment day on Saturday, May 20, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The fire hall is located at 7 Main Street. For more information, visit http://frankfordfire.com, or call (302) 732-6662.