Fayette County

Governor, ag chief, mayor visit smoldering stockyards and pledge help to rebuild

Bevin, Quarles tour stockyards

Gov. Matt Bevin, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray toured the smoldering remains of Blue Grass Stockyards on Monday.
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Gov. Matt Bevin, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray toured the smoldering remains of Blue Grass Stockyards on Monday.

While fire inspectors combed through the still-smoldering ruins of Blue Grass Stockyards, Gov. Matt Bevin, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray said Monday that the state and the city are ready to assist in rebuilding the business, which was destroyed by a three-alarm fire Saturday afternoon.

“The Kentucky Department of Agriculture is lending a helping hand and is ready to assist in any way possible to help Blue Grass Stockyards get back on their feet,” Quarles said. “For me, some of my earliest childhood memories are sitting in the sale ring. My dad used to work here when he was a college student, so this is personal for me.

“But it’s important to note Blue Grass Stockyards is one of the most prominent livestock facilities not just in Kentucky but in the eastern United States. And, with Kentucky being the number one cattle-producing state east of the Mississippi, it’s important that we assist with what’s next.”

Bevin said the fire brought back memories of the fire that destroyed his family’s East Hampton, Conn., bell factory in 2012. “Just the smell, all of it. ... You relive it again in some measure,” Bevin said. “It’s very personal. But it’s also why I’m as committed to helping them in whatever way they would like.”

Although Bevin didn’t have a specific aid package, he said that there are programs that could apply and that the state will be supportive.

“There is a chance for there to be a rebirth out of something as tragic as this,” he said. “This is an integral part of this community and has been for many years. That’s not going to change.”

Jim Akers, chief operating officer of the stockyards, said all buying and selling operations have been shifted for now to other stockyards in the state. The stockyards in Mount Sterling and Stanford opened Monday.

Akers thanked the firefighters who fought the fire that erupted just after 2 p.m. Saturday.

“Now that we’re into the investigative stage, their professionalism, their thoroughness has been very impressive,” he said. “It’s sad to lose the history. ... Facilities like this one just don’t exist much anymore. Parts of this building had been in existence since the early 1900s. This was our 70th anniversary of operation at this location as Blue Grass Stockyards.”

Quarles said he thinks the economic impact of the closing of the Lexington market will be minimal, and the impact on meat prices is likely to be minimal.

The Lexington cattle auction was one of the main places for local farmers to sell weanlings and feeder cattle, and to cull cows that would go to western feedlots before entering the food chain, University of Kentucky cattle marketing expert Kenny Burdine said.

“This was a huge facility,” he said. “Moved a lot of livestock of multiple species. The number I’ve heard was about 100,000 a year. On really busy sale days, you’ll see them sell well over 1,000. ... We have a lot of small producers and part-time farmers, ... and a lot of time they use a facility like this to outsource the marketing function.”

Akers said Monday that the cause of the fire has not yet been identified. “There have been some speculative reports in the media that, from my perspective, will prove to be not correct,” Akers said.

The cattle barns were not fitted with sprinklers or other fire suppression, Akers said.

Investigators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were at the site Monday along with local fire investigators.

Special operations Battalion Chief Gregg Bayer said Monday that the air quality in the area had returned to normal. On Saturday, amid massive clouds of thick black smoke, people in the neighborhood and those with respiratory conditions were asked to stay indoors.

Akers said the ownership didn’t yet know whether the stockyards will be rebuilt at Forbes Road and Lisle Industrial Drive.

“At this point, I don’t have direction from our board. The one clear directive I do have is that we will get this business back up and running as soon as possible. We’re going to move very aggressively. Obviously, our insurance people haven’t been able to be on scene yet. As soon as we have factual information that we can take to our ownership, hopefully by the end of this week we’ll do that, we’ll release an announcement of our intentions.”

Mayor Jim Gray said the city also wants to help “and allow them to examine any options they may have.”

High winds spread to several other businesses in the area, including Slim’s Towing. Dewayne Hogan, owner of Slim’s Towing, said Monday he’s still trying to match the dozens and dozens of scorched cars and trucks to VIN numbers.

Slim’s Towing offers roadside assistance, auto wrecker services and towing. The city and Lexington police confirmed that they didn’t have contracts with the company.

Hogan said he has met with Gray and other area businesses, which he said “are all working together,” but it’s too early for him to talk about plans.

“This right here is a new experience for me,” he said.

Hogan told the Herald-Leader earlier that he lost six of his eight tow trucks, two buildings and 100 vehicles in the fire, but he said Monday that it was too early to accurately say what had been destroyed.

He also said he couldn’t estimate how many of the vehicles were owned by others, some of whom have contacted him.

“I’ve told them you just have to wait as everything plays out,” he said.

Staff reporter Michael McKay contributed to this report.

Janet Patton: 859-231-3264, @janetpattonhl

Public’s help sought

The Lexington Fire Department’s Fire Investigation Bureau is requesting the public’s help as the investigation continues into the Blue Grass Stockyards fire. Anyone with videos or pictures of the fire that were taken before fire trucks arrived is asked to submit them to arsontips@lexingtonky.gov. Fire officials have said they have no reason to suspect arson in the case.

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