You might think that lessons had been learned from the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire but it is a sad fact that few people learn anything from history.

At 8:20 AM on September 3, 1991, a hydraulic line broke near a gas-fired chicken fryer at the Imperial Foods chicken processing plant in Hamlet, North Carolina. Fumes from the hydraulic fluid were ignited by the 400-degree fryer; flames and toxic smoke quickly spread throughout the building, but employees were unable to escape due to the fact that doors (including emergency exits) had been locked "to prevent people from stealing chickens", and to keep them from taking breaks. By the time the fire was put out, 25 people were dead, and 56 were injured.

Imperial Foods was fined $808,150 for safety violations. Owner Emmett Roe received 20 years in prison as part of a plea bargain. Another part of the deal allowed Roe's son, the plant manager, to be released with no jail time. Roe was paroled in 1997 after serving four and a half years of his sentence.

But of course, blame exists in profusion. The Federal government allowed North Carolina to conduct its own plant safety inspections. Somehow, during the 11-year lifetime of the plant, the state never got around to inspecting the Imperial Chicken plant. The North Carolina Supreme Court eventually ruled that victims and their families could not sue the state for this.

The burned-out remains of the Imperial chicken plant still sit on a hill in Hamlet, North Carolina.

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