According to Brawley Fire Chief Frank Contreras, sparks from the work the crew was doing managed to fall through the roof and ignite the plastic contained in the drum.
He said the filtration tank has a 14-foot base and is 26 feet high.
Contreras said of the fire, "Once it took off it created a big cloud of black smoke."
He said crews working at the beef plant tried to put out the fire with extinguishers but were unable to do so.
Brawley firefighters were called to the scene at 5:59 a.m., and the decision was made to classify the fire as a second-alarm blaze, meaning other fire departments were called to assist.
Contreras said 22 firefighters battled the blaze, including those from Brawley, El Centro, the county and Calipatria State Prison.
The fire was extinguished within 30 minutes. Contreras said there were no injuries and the fire presented no danger to the surrounding area.
Brandt said the engineer and architect for the beef plant will be at the facility Monday to determine the extent of damage and how to move forward with repairs.
"We'll get right on it," Brandt said. "It shouldn't slow us down."
The beef-processing plant has been hailed as an important development for the Imperial Valley, both for the jobs it will create and for the boost it could provide to the local agricultural industry.
Officials with the beef plant have said the plant will employ 600 full-time employees, and in the future that number could increase to 1,200.
The beef plant is being built on a 100 acres of land in the northeastern section of the city near Shank Road.
Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.