Factory Burns

August 10, 2008

Worries rise after fire takes factory in Reinbeck


Reinbeck, Ia. -- A day after a fire destroyed a sporting goods plant here and caused a toxic smoke scare, the real worry for this Grundy County community of 1,800 was the potential loss of 75 jobs.

Delta Sports Products caught fire at about 8 p.m. Friday and burned through the night. Foam and other hazardous materials burned inside the plant, which makes archery targets and equipment, forcing about 50 homes to be evacuated north of the community. The cause of the fire is not yet determined.

The evacuation order was lifted early Saturday morning, after hazardous materials specialists from Waterloo didn't detect any cyanide in air samples.

Hazardous materials workers would continue to monitor the air for any levels of poisonous gas, said Jeremy Klatt, an environmental specialist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. It didn't appear that any chemicals had tainted the nearby Black Hawk Creek, he said.

Although the threat of environmental hazard lifted, the possibility of losing jobs during rocky economic times remained.

The loss of jobs and tax revenue the factory provided will weigh heavily on Reinbeck, said Mayor Lon Larsen.

"It's going to affect Reinbeck because that's quite a tax base you're looking at there," he said. "There's people in Reinbeck that worked here -- yeah, it'll probably affect us more than we realize right now."

Shane Arnold and his wife, Heather, have worked at the plant for the past several months, and both came to the site on Saturday to watch the smoldering remains of what used to be their workplace.

"This was a great place to work -- I love my job," Shane Arnold said. The couple lives five blocks away from the plant with their two small children.

Chris Jans has worked at the plant for two months, and said the work was hard but the money was good. He plans to look for seasonal work with local businesses or find something in Waterloo.

"Hopefully they rebuild. I mean, I'd like to come back here and work," he said.

Laverne Woock, one of the plant's owners, said the company's managers will meet this weekend, and the entire staff will be briefed next week on the company's plans.

"By that time, we can give them an idea of what the company's going to do and what their future is and how that's going to play out," he said.

The company isn't completely out of business, since it has several million dollars' worth of finished inventory stored in a separate site and two small operations in North Carolina and Mississippi, Woock said. But the factory's loss means those supplies won't be immediately replenished when they are sold.

Still, Woock said, the company would like to stay in Reinbeck even if company officials don't rebuild on the factory's original site.

But for Arnold's family, he is left with car and house payments and no paycheck to pay them with.

"I have no idea what I'm going to do," he said.