It was shaping up to be a normal production day at Tri-Tech Molding when plant manager Jeff Wolaver noticed a fire had erupted in a back corner of the factory.
“I have no idea what caused it,” said Wolaver. “We had just gotten through with our shift change and were getting started. Fortunately we were able to get everybody out and nobody got hurt.”
The Tri-Tech Molding building on Smithville Highway and all the equipment inside wasn’t as fortunate. It’s expected to be a complete loss.
“This is going to hurt a lot of families,” said building and business co-owner Bob Brown, who owns the company with Don Terry. “We just got done making it through four or five lean years and had gotten to where we were running around the clock. Things were finally starting to look good.”
Tri-Tech Molding specializes is producing plastic products. The primary products it manufactures are milk crates, automobile floor mats, and nursery containers.
The company employs 12 and had been operating 24-7 since August, according to Wolaver. He said Tri-Tech made 1 million milk crates last year and nearly that many floor mats.
The fire erupted around 7 a.m. with North Warren Fire Department first arriving on the scene in the Gath community. It wasn’t long before North Warren requested mutual aid assistance from other fire departments. By 9 a.m., an all-call was issued for help from every available firefighter in the county.
The dark smoke from the fire could be seen from miles away with people saying they could see it from Rock Island and Centertown. The 28,000-square-foot factory was filled with plastic, which provided fuel for the fire. One firefighter was transported to River Park Hospital.
Tri-Tech Molding was founded in 1987 and has been under the ownership of Brown and Terry since 1992. Asked if he has good insurance to cover the extensive loss, Brown said, “I guess we’ll see.”
Firefighters remained on the scene at press time Tuesday.