Early-morning blaze destroys factory

Olivia Medovich
Staff writer

Fire crews worked to extinguish the fire at Ellis Popcorn Company on Poplar Street Tuesday morning.

As of Wednesday afternoon fire crews were still investigating the cause of the blaze, Eric Pologruto, Fire Chief for the city of Murray, said.

“Our investigator just got started doing the investigation and he will be back out there Thursday,” Pologruto said earlier this week. “There is no speculation as to what caused the fire and depending on what evidence can be collected it is a possibility we may not know.”

He said the department received the call at about 5 a.m. and declared the fire under control late Tuesday morning.

It is not certain when the building will be turned over to the owner, Pologruto said.

“Even yet today that building is going to be smoldering and pockets of embers will be there for the next couple of days,” he said Wednesday.

Pologruto said the Calloway County Fire Department assisted in putting out the fire.

“There was roughly around 45 personnel on the scene,” he said.

No one was injured during the fire, he said. However, one firefighter was sent to the hospital from the scene.

“A Calloway County firefighter went to the hospital for heat exhaustion and later was released,” he said.

Pologruto said the Murray Fire Department sends its best wishes to the owners of the company.

Michael Sunderland, plant manager for Ellis Popcorn Company, said it is uncertain who discovered the fire.

“We are not 100 percent sure who called the fire in,” Sunderland said. “We believe it was one of the police patrol cars.”

Sunderland said fire crews worked around the clock to keep the flames under control.

“Fire crews were here from approximately 5 a.m. and were on sight throughout the night and have been here off and on throughout the day,” he said.

Sunderland said the fire has devastated him.

“I’ve worked here 11-and-a-half years,” he said. “This company has been my livelihood and been family for me. Being a small company we are all close. Everyone we work with is like family and it’s been that way ever since we started.”

He said the company is touched by the support the community has shown it.

“On behalf of the company we have been very moved by the reaction of the fire department and everyone that was here with the fire department and the community in general has been fantastic,” Sunderland said. “Everyone has stepped forward to help us and we have been really moved by that.”

Ellis Popcorn currently employs 10 people, Sunderland said. The employees have questioned keeping their jobs.

“There initially have been some concerns about job security, but beyond that they have been concerned as to how the owner is handling this,” he said. “It was her father’s business and they have been very diligent about making sure we have all the help we need.”

Sunderland said Ellis Popcorn Company has been in Murray for almost 25 years and has been in business for more than 70 years.

He said despite the fire it is business as usual for the company.

“For business it means that we have run into a temporary wall, which we will get past,” Sunderland said. “We are in the process of relocating so that we can continue business and we will move forward.”

At this point it is uncertain when people will be allowed in the building again, Sunderland said.

“We really don’t have any solid news yet,” he said. “We don’t know at this point if it is structurally safe for us to go in. There isn’t a whole lot we can say.”

Sunderland said this location was the base of the operation.

“The front of the building was used as office space and production and processing went on at this plant as well,” he said.

The factory has contracted with local farmers over the years to process their popcorn, Sunderland said.

“There will be absolutely no change for local famers,” Sunderland said. “We are working to see it is business as usual with customers. Operations are still going on to take grain from the farmers.”

Sunderland said the company will take things one step at a time.

“We still have a long road ahead of us with this building, but we will rebuild,” he said.

Ellis Popcorn Company provided every pound of popcorn for Smart Foods Popcorn.

The company shipped popcorn all over the world and at one point in time Ellis Popcorn was in every professional sports arena in Texas and Illinois.

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