Yuengling Brewery Fire: $1M in Damage to 1950s-era Florida Facility

Monday, 28 Oct 2013 07:56 AM

By Clyde Hughes

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A welder replacing an old fire escape may have sparked a fire that caused $1 million of damage to the 1950s-era Yuengling Brewery near Busch Gardens in Tampa over the weekend.

Brewery officials told the Tampa Bay Times that the plant was able to open Sunday because most of the damage was confined to its interior walls and ceilings. 

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Yuengling, founded in 1829, calls itself as the oldest brewer in the United States and also operates a brewery in Pottsville, Pa. The company bought the Tampa facility in 1999 from Stroh Brewing Co.

The Tampa Tribune reported that the brewery was originally was owned by Schlitz. Prior to its Stroh's ownership, it was operated by Pabst. 

Jim Helmke, Yuengling's director of operations in Tampa, told the Tampa Bay Times that the welder likely sparked the fire Saturday evening while replacing old beams in a wall. Smoldering in the area may have gone undetected several hours before the fire started in the walls, which are made of 50-year-old timbers.

"The fire itself was very dramatic and very frightening," Helmke said. "But none of the beer, none of the product was jeopardized at all. Nothing will prevent us from operating normally. Nobody here will lose an hour of work over this. It could have been much worse. We're very fortunate."

Firefighters could not get to the flames from inside the building when they arrived on the scene Saturday night. Two ladder trucks were used to spray the structure with water from the outside.

A Tampa police helicopter assisted in the firefighting effort by providing overhead guidance to some 60 firefighters on the ground. Two Yuengling employees were in the plant when the fire started but were not injured.

According to the Pottsville Republican Herald, Yuengling added a new brew house to the Tampa facility this past spring, increasing the plant's capacity from 450 barrels to 675 barrels. The project costs between $5 to 10 million. 

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