Cause of fire 'undetermined' at Harper's Country Hams in Clinton, KY

Published: Feb. 8, 2017 at 12:39 PM CST|Updated: Apr. 6, 2017 at 4:12 PM CDT
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(Source: Tony Roell)
(Source: Tony Roell)

HICKMAN COUNTY, KY (KFVS) - The state fire marshal's office classified the cause of a fire as "undetermined" at Harper's Country Hams in Clinton, Kentucky in February.

Crews were called to the business around 5:50 a.m. on Wednesday, February 8.

U.S. 51 was blocked to traffic for hours as crews worked to put the fire out.

Crews were still on the scene on Wednesday night.

Officials say the state fire marshal is investigating, and the crews were waiting for the area to cool down before they began going through the damage to determine the cause of the fire.

According to Keith Todd with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, due to changing wind conditions, there was an issue with smoke blowing across U.S. 51 from time to time on Wednesday afternoon that slowed traffic flow.

Drivers are reminded to slow down and use appropriate caution in the area due to the smoke.

It continued to be an issue through the night as firefighters continued trying to extinguish hot spots.

The building was considered a total loss.

We're told about 60 people worked at Harper's Country Hams, and they're all looking for work now.

One of the fire captains on scene actually worked at the business. He said it's a loss that a lot of people are feeling.

"It's devastating. I mean, I love this company. There's roots throughout the United States with this company and I know it's going to hurt this family that owns this company as well as the families that work for this company," said Captain Eric Byassee with Hickman County Fire and Rescue. "I mean, it may not have sunk in yet. It will, but they'll rebuild and move on."

A local church opened their doors to employees to let them begin filing for unemployment benefits.

Community members have rallied together and formed a group called the Community Aid and Relief Effort, or C.A.R.E., to accept donations. Donations are being accepted at the Clinton Bank and the First Community Bank (both located in Clinton) and the Hickman County Attorney's Office. Donations can also be mailed to the following address:

Hickman County Attorney
110 East Clay Street
Suite D
Clinton, KY  42031

Various groups and people are helping with the effort, including churches across the region and local banks.

Kentucky Gov. Bevin made the following statement:

"We just received news of a fire at Harper's Foods, a fixture in the Clinton, KY community for generations.  We are thankful for those fighting this fire, and pray the situation will soon be resolved. #WeAreKY"

Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles also released a statement on Wednesday:

"I was deeply saddened to hear about the tragic loss of Harper's Country Hams this morning. During a call with the Harper family, I expressed my condolences and offered them any and all support the Kentucky Department of Agriculture could provide. Harper's Country Hams is a classic and well-known ham product in west Kentucky, and I look forward to working with this great agribusiness to get them back to work."

Harper's Country Hams has been in business since 1952.

This is not the first time the owners of Harper's Country Hams have fallen on hard times.

In 1995, owner Curtis Harper was robbed and murdered at the business.

Kentucky State Police said he was violently beaten before someone took the cash box and other money.

His grandson remembered getting that phone call more than two decades ago.

"I'd had a lot of bad calls early in the morning related to our business, and certainly my grandfather's murder was one of them," Brian Harper said. "And the two fires that we've had, the our family has faced tragedy at work before. And, we'll make it through this and we're strong for each other."

Curtis Harper's murder remains unsolved to this day.

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