Thomas Foods International (TFI) is counting the costs as after a massive fire ripped through its Murray Bridge abattoir near Adelaide.

The fire was reportedly sparked on 3 January by a maintenance worker who was welding an offal bin.

“We’re currently assessing the damage caused by the fire and it’s still too early to tell the full extent,” TFI CEO Darren Thomas said in a statement.

“Thankfully, and most importantly, all staff on site at the time of the fire were evacuated safely and promptly, which is testament to the safety procedures we have in place at Murray Bridge and the professionalism of our internal response team,” he said.

“The safety and wellbeing of all our staff is our highest priority. Staff will not be returning to the site until it has been declared completely safe to do so.”

Thomas said management also acted swiftly to ensure all livestock were safely relocated, and the company had now begun making alternative processing arrangements across the group's operations and networks to continue to manage its customer requirements.

“Once we have a full understanding of the nature of the damage we will begin planning the necessary repair work to ensure the site is back to capacity in processing the highest quality Australian meat for our national and export markets as soon as possible,” he said.

Thomas said the company was focussing on a range of options to assist employees affected by the fire. Workers on 417 backpacker visas were terminated, but TFI retained its 457 visa holders and permanent workers, who are on two weeks' leave.

Thomas said he had spoken with many employees and their families at Murray Bridge and he understood “the uncertainty an event such as this causes”.

“I have reassured them that our family company remains fully committed to finding the best possible outcome for our employees. We stand by our staff at this difficult time, providing what assistance and support we can.”

Thomas also said the family company was committed to Murray Bridge and was taking a long-term and sustainable approach to the recovery and rebuild.

“We have not yet had full access to the site to determine the full extent of the damage caused by the accidental fire, and that may not be known for some time.

“There is no doubt the fire caused significant damage to our plant, however we’re continuing to manage customer orders through our other group processing operations," he said.

“The site will require significant repair and upgrade but we are committed to re-building and creating an even better meat processing facility in the future.”