Clean-up and restoration making steady progress
By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
It was a mixed bag when a fire started in the early morning hours at Thielen Meats in Pierz.
It was reported March 14, at 4:30 a.m., when no one was in the building, so no one was hurt. But, if it had started when someone was in the building, the fire may have been caught before it caused extensive damage, said Matt Thielen.
“Neighbors saw the flames shooting out of the back of the building — if it weren’t for them, it could have been a lot worse,” said Matt.
He said from what they know now, the fire may have started when a gas main valve on the back of the building was broken off by ice. “They’re still looking into that,” said Matt.
Matt, his father, Keith and brothers Andy and Joe own the business that has been in their family for four generations, started by their great-grandfather, Phil, in 1922.
“The fire was way in the back of the building,” Matt said. “It’s a block building back there and it only really burned the rafters above (in the meat-cutting room). The rest of it is clean-up of smoke damage. There’s not a heck of a lot of physical damage.”
But, because it is a food operation, the inside of the building must be cleared out and rebuilt, due to the smoke and soot damage.
The smokehouse itself, in which Thielen’s famous bacon and sausage is cured, is a steel box inside of a concrete box and wasn’t damaged. “Fire can’t hurt it — it’s designed to have fire in it all day long,” said Thielen.
The reconstruction of the interior is under way and should be completed soon.
The Thielens can’t give an exact time their doors will re-open for business.
“We don’t know right now,” said Matt. “It’s kind of up to the inspectors to pass on it. Sometimes you wait for a month to approve a plan.”
The inspectors include a building inspector, food inspector and grocery retail inspectors, said Matt.
“If it were up to us, we could have it back in shape in four or five weeks,” said Matt.
The hope is to be open in time for Easter so people can get their Easter ham or sausage, but “that may be pushing it,” he said.
Matt predicted for sure the store would be open for the season when tourists travel through Pierz “up north” and pick up their meat along the way.
Wednesday, the constructions crews were working to get the rafters back up, but help came right away the morning of the fire.
“We’re thankful to the local contractors for basically dropping everything and helping us out — the construction guys, plumbers and electricians,” said Matt. “It’s a big deal to get them all here and they were here Friday morning already and pretty much straight through.”
Even customers came in to see what they could do to help, even if it was to shovel insulation.
“We appreciate our customers’ support over the years,” said Matt. “We’ve been getting lots of phone calls asking, ‘What can I do to help?’ We just want to thank them for their compassion and willingness to come in and help and appreciate their patience while we get everything back into shape.”
Once the store is given the go-ahead to re-open, the Thielen Meat crew needs to start from scratch and when it first opens, the choices may limited.
“We literally have to make everything — all the product that was in the store is gone. We have to start from zero and make every product that we have,” said Matt. “We will slowly amp up to full production after we get to open.”