GA Mill Blast Kills 1, Injures 5

Thursday, February 11, 2016 @ 06:02 PM gHale

The JCG Farms feed plant in Rockmart, GA, suffered about $3 million in damage after an explosion killed one man and injured five others Sunday, officials said.

Investigators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’ (ATF) national response team was at the site of the blast Monday.

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The damage to JCG Farms includes heavy structural damage to the warehouse, plant and offices.

“We know there were seven workers in the plant at the time, plus a security guard,” said Nero Priester, a public information officer with the ATF’s Atlanta field office. “All of these people are accounted for. One man died at the scene and five were transported to the hospital. I know one man was taken to the Grady Burn Center and was listed in serious condition (Monday).”

Justin Deems, 25, of Rockmart, died during the explosion that rocked the plant on Ga. 101 around 2:30 a.m. Sunday, said Polk County Coroner Tony Brazier.

Rockmart Fire Chief Todd Queen provided the names of four of the injured men — Randy Dodd, James Lentz, Dallas Holcombe and Tyler Morgan.

Polk County Emergency Management Director Randy Lacey said 911 operators received multiple calls about the explosion, some from at least two miles away.

“When I arrived at the scene Sunday morning, the firefighters told me that the explosion woke them up. And the department is about a mile away from the plant,” he said. “A lot of people who called into 911 said they thought it was an earthquake.”

Lacey said when he arrived on the scene, he saw the results of a “powerful explosion.” Firefighters put out spot fires, but one fire from a gas main burned inside the plant until the gas company arrived and shut off the supply to the building, he said.

The ATF, the Rockmart Fire Department and the state fire marshal are working together on the investigation.

“We have resources to help in clearing the site, such as heavy machinery,” said Nero Priester, a public information officer with the ATF’s Atlanta field office.

The response team consists of specialists such as veteran agents, forensic mappers, dogs that can detect accelerant and engineers, Priester said.

“I was told that if this had happened during the week, there could have been about 35 people there working,” Lacey said. “I’ve worked as an emergency responder for many years in other counties, so I have seen things like this before, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything of this magnitude in Polk County.”

Eight people were inside the structure when the explosion happened. Most of them were young men, Queen said, who added the job can be physically taxing.

“Basically, they bring grain products in, they grind it into poultry feed (and) they ship it out to poultry plants to feed the chickens,” he said.

JCG Foods LLC bought the Rockdale factory out of bankruptcy from Cagle’s Inc. for $93 million in 2012. An expansion the following year pushed the number of employees working at the plant to 1,400. Official records show JCG Farms registered in Alabama as a “hatchery and feed mill” business.

Investigators are searching for the cause of the explosion, but there is not a timeframe for when the answer will be available, Priester said.