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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Marine Reservist Blamed for $326 Million Fire

MILWAUKEE (CN) - A meat-packing plant sued the United States for $365 million in damages from a 3-day fire allegedly caused by a U.S. Marine who stole a green star-cluster flare from his training base and lit it off at his parents' house to celebrate the 4th of July.

The flare landed on the roof of the Patrick Cudahy meat packing plant, according to the federal complaint from Smithfield Foods, its Patrick Cudahy subsidiary, and six insurance companies.

The fire lasted for three days and put hundreds of employees of out of work, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Twenty-seven fire departments fought the fire, which destroyed one-fourth of the more than 1 million-square-foot plant, originally established in 1880. The explosion also threatened a tank of anhydrous ammonia, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of people for about 13 hours. Surveillance video taken from a camera at the plant assisted investigators in determining the cause of the disaster.

Insurers paid $208 million in claims to Smithfield Foods, which also suffered uninsured losses of $118 million.

Smithfield claims Joshua Popp, of the Marine Reserves, found a live, M125 green star cluster flare at Camp Wilson in Twentynine Palms, Calif., and took it home to Cudahy, Wisc., then set it off on the 5th of July.

Popp, who is not named as a defendant, found the flare "outside of the field training grounds and outside the area where live munitions were allowed" in 2007, according to the complaint.

Smithfield says Popp took the flare to Wisconsin and launched it 2 years later outside the family home on July 5, 2009, at 9:23 p.m.

"The flare traveled into the air and landed on the roof of the Cudahy Processing Facility. Upon landing on the roof ... the flare exploded, resulting in a massive fire," the complaint states.

Smithfield says the Navy is responsible for "the security and tracking of all ordnances on the Twentynine Palms military base, including Camp Wilson," and it failed "to comply with policies, procedures and standards in place which controlled the security and tracking" of the ordnance.

Smithfield cites Marine Corps Base Order 8023.1: "Ammunition of [sic] explosives will not be appropriated for personal use."

It says the Officer in Charge of the Camp Wilson training range had a duty to account for the inventory of "all unexpended munitions." Should any go missing, a "Missing, Lost, Stolen or Recovered Report" must be submitted, but was not, the complaint states.

With interest, the damages come to $365 million, the plaintiffs say.

They are represented by Alyssa Endelman with Denenberg Tuffley, of Southfield, Mich.

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