Nfld. & Labrador

Quinlan Brothers to rebuild 'bigger and better than ever' in Bay de Verde

The owners of a fish processing plant destroyed in a powerful fire say they will launch a "bigger and better" operation in Bay de Verde, and will still buy from harvesters who normally sell to Quinlans.

Company officials toured ruins of burned plant, issue statement late Tuesday

Bay de Verde chief and Quinlan Bros employee Ambrose Broaders reacts to plant fire. 0:20

There's hope for the future in the Newfoundland fishing community of Bay de Verde, where the company that owns a fish processing plant razed by a dramatic fire Monday says it plans to rebuild. 

Officials with Quinlan Brothers, who met with town representatives Tuesday, made the announcement while touring the ruins of the plant that had employed 700 workers at the peak of the season. 

Company executives Wayne Quinlan and Robin Quinlan and longtime plant manager Barry Hatch, who appeared to be visibly shaken by the tour, turned down interview requests, but said they will rebuild "bigger and better than ever."  

In a statement late Tuesday afternoon, Quinlan Brothers said it will still buy seafood from harvesters.

It is working on a plan to divert the seafood to other processing plants, which should result in some work for people normally employed at the Bay de Verde facility.

"The company is working round the clock to put in place arrangements with other producers to add capacity, increase shifts, etc. that will ensure the seafood landed is processed in a timely and high-quality manner," said the statement.

"The company's staff at Bay de Verde will be co-ordinating the transition of workers together processing facilities and they will keep in touch with the workforce to inform them of these developments as they are established."

Quinlans thanked the firefighters who tried to save the Bay de Verde plant, without success.

"There has been a great loss of physical assets, but all of it can and will be replaced. The company is fully insured and it will rebuild at Bay de Verde as quickly as possible."

Mayor says town needs to 'pick up the pieces'

Bay de Verde's mayor says residents and workers will need to "pick up the pieces."

"This morning we still have a smouldering mess," Mayor Gerard Murphy told CBC's St. John's Morning Show on Tuesday.

About 12 hours earlier, Murphy lifted a state of emergency and evacuation order in his community that saw 300 people evacuated as firefighters battled the blaze at the Quinlan Brothers plant.

The fire was reported at 5:30 a.m. NT Monday, and Murphy said the site is still one of devastation and smoke.

Bay de Verde Mayor Gerard Murphy says it's too early to seek answers from Quinlan Brothers about where the snow crab will be processed this season (Terry Roberts/CBC)

"This morning there's quite a sharp contrast to yesterday. It's such a sunny, calm morning, and the devastation that you see when you go down to the site … we're just going to have to pick up the pieces and move forward," he said.

It was the perfect storm. The winds played havoc with the firefighters.- Gerard Murphy, Bay de Verde mayor

"People will have to get adjusted to a new normal in Bay de Verde and surrounding area. As I said, the hundreds of lives that have been affected by yesterday, I guess that will sink in throughout the course of the day."

While residents were able to return to their homes Monday evening, Murphy said they're likely still trying to assess the smoke damage.

The latest video from the devastating fire. 1:14

The fire started in the west end of the fish plant, Murphy said, but the direction of winds throughout the day blew smoke directly towards homes on the south harbour side of Bay de Verde.

"It was the perfect storm. The winds played havoc with the firefighters trying to get an upper hand on the situation."

Residents of Bay de Verde watch Monday as fire destroys the town's main employer. (CBC)

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Murphy said it is still too early to seek answers from Quinlan Brothers about where the 17 million pounds of snow crab being caught offshore will be processed this season.

State of emergency and evacuation order lifted after firefighters battle the blaze at the Quinlan Brothers Ltd. fish processing plant 1:08

The loss of 700 jobs is also a big worry. Fish plant workers from across the province had just arrived in Bay de Verde as the season geared up.

Some came from Thailand, their third year commuting to Newfoundland for work in the fish processing sector.

'Still, it's hard'

Tina Andrews gets emotional as she worries about whether her home will be fit to live in. (CBC)

Meanwhile, residents are trying to cope.

Tina Andrews — who works at Gasland, a restaurant, convenience store and gas bar in Old Perlican a few kilometres from Bay de Verde — had no idea what the day would bring when she left for work Monday.

She heard about the fire at the Quinlan Brothers plant from her boyfriend, a volunteer firefighter. 

"He was supposed to get my daughter up for school and he said there was an explosion down to the plant and he couldn't go," Andrews told Debbie Cooper of CBC's Here & Now on Monday evening.

"So she came here with me and about 7:30 [a.m.], they said that they were starting to evacuate the harbour. So I had one of the Quinlan truck drivers look after my gas and I beat it home to look after my dog. And I put my cat in the bedroom, not thinking it was going to get as bad as it did."

Smoke billowed over homes in Bay de Verde for hours Monday, blown by a strong westerly wind. (CBC)

The worry as the fire raged throughout the day took a toll on Andrews, who doesn't have family in Bay de Verde.

"My mother's boyfriend lives up in Clarke's Beach. My mom's up there now with my daughter and her dog. If we can't get back home, she might not be able to go back to school here. Everything's up in the air."

By suppertime, with the state of emergency lifted, Andrews was able to return to her home and told CBC she felt a bit better.

The house was smoky, but it appeared liveable and her cat was fine.

"As long as nobody was hurt, that's the main thing," she said. "Things can be replaced and rebuilt. Still, it's hard."

Serious cleanup

A group of workers from Thailand had just arrived in Bay de Verde to begin seasonal jobs at the fish plant. (Terry Toberts/CBC)

Hard indeed for hundreds on the entire Avalon.

"It's going to be a big blow," said Derrick Keats, a crab fisherman from Bay de Verde, who's not sure where he will land his catch now.

Keats said crab normally landed at the plant will now have to be trucked elsewhere, "and I guess the bigger boats will land in different ports."

Like Andrews, he predicted that many homes in the path of the smoke will need serious cleanup.

With files from Debbie Cooper and Terry Roberts

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