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Fire Rips Through Dietz & Watson Warehouse In South Jersey


By Elizabeth Hur, Mike Dougherty and Cleve Bryan

DELANCO, N.J. (CBS) – Fire crews continued to battle a multi-alarm fire at a major food distributor in Burlington County, New Jersey Monday, that was finally placed under control in the early evening.

Crews first responded to the blaze around 1:45 p.m. Sunday at the Dietz & Watson warehouse along the 1000 block of Coopertown Road in Delanco.

Officials say it appears the fire started in the center of the building and quickly escalated, ripping through the roof of the warehouse.

More than 200 firefighters from 28 towns and five counties originally responded to the blaze, though the numbers had decreased drastically by Monday.

Earlier, on Sunday evening, officials still felt it was too dangerous to send the firefighters to the top of the building, fearing their safety would be jeopardized, so instead, they attacked the fire from the ground. Solar panels on the building's roof have also made things more difficult.

"We have no idea what it's going to do," Delanco Fire Chief Ron Holt said on Sunday. "Normal roof, we would be able to get on there, trench it, cut it off, stop it at a certain point. With the power sitting on top of that roof I can't — that building is not worth one of my guy's lives."

Officials say the 260,000 square foot warehouse served as a cold storage facility and distribution center for Dietz & Watson and as many as 150 people work out of the building. No major injuries, however, were reported. Two firefighters were treated for minor injuries.

"What's going through my mind is that no one was injured, no employees were in the building and that is the only thing that's important," Dietz & Watson CEO Louis Eni said.

Officials called the building's insulation their biggest obstacle in fighting this fire. There were also water source issues. Holt says they had to bring in pump boats to pump water from the Rancocas Creek about a mile away.

Hazmat crews were called in to check on the air quality of the area earlier on Sunday. The air quality is deemed safe at this time, so there are no worries for nearby residents.

Eni released the following statement Sunday:

"This is a tough Labor Day weekend for the Dietz & Watson family, but we are relieved all of our employees are safe. Our family built this state-of-the-art distribution center six years ago. The premium meats and cheeses we so carefully make in Philadelphia literally are shipped to the world from this Delanco, NJ distribution center. We're very proud of that. But it will take more than a fire to set us back. Over nearly 75 years, we've faced a lot, and we'll bounce back from this, too. We are so grateful to the brave firefighters who are working to put out the fire."

On Monday afternoon, officials held a press conference to discuss the fire, stating that it was mostly contained but still burning at the center of the warehouse, about 600 feet from the exterior walls. The fire was finally placed under control just before 6 p.m. Monday.

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