A smoldering fire that’s been sending smoke across the city of Cedar Rapids this week is growing more expensive to fight by the hour. The fire at the former Farmstead Foods meatpacking plant on Cedar Rapids’ southeast side was first reported Tuesday morning. Since then, firefighters have dumped foam and more than 750,000 gallons of water on the interlocked buildings.

Fire department spokesperson Greg Buelow says the effort is costing nearly $1,000 an hour and there’s a strong chance the fire was started by a person trespassing on the property. “Is it possible somebody was in there? Yes. Is it possible somebody intentionally did this? Yes. Is it possible there’s another cause? Absolutely,” Buelow said.

A similar fire at the old packing plant started in late July and firefighters continued to douse hot spots from that event through October. Buelow estimates the cost of fighting the current fire at $650,000 so far. City building official Matthew Widner says the city has been studying the property for months – hoping to get it torn down.

“The benefit of the fire, I hate to say it…it is going to expedite the demolition itself,” Widner said. Ironically, Widner said a day after the fire started the city finally got verbal approval to demolish many of the buildings. There are signs and gates to keep people out of the buildings, but police say they’ve arrested several people in the past for vandalism inside the property.

The city received $3.5 million in insurance money from the last fire in July, but Flood Recovery Director Greg Eyerly says the city won’t get any insurance money from this fire. The fire has raised concern about air quality in the neighborhood. An advisory recommends people, especially those with preexisting respiratory conditions, to limit outside exposure.

By Justin Foss, KCRG-TV, Cedar Rapids