The flames and smoke roared with ferocity as firefighters from nine departments arrived on the scene in Hinesburg. The Saputo cheese plant-- which manufactures mozzarella and other specialty cheeses-- caught fire Monday night and forced the evacuation of roughly 50 neighbors. The 20 workers inside escaped without injury before fire crews arrived.
"We had one firefighter injured and that was it. So fortunately they have a very good evacuation plan and got everybody out and accounted for before we got there, so it went well on their end," Hinesburg Fire Chief Al Barber said.
But their work is far from over. The building was still smoldering a good 12 hours after the fire was extinguished. Investigators spent Tuesday surveying the debris, preparing to peel through the layers. But dangerous chemicals posed additional challenges in their effort to find a cause.
"Basically, from my understanding from the fire service here, the lye is like an acid. It's a high ph level. It can cause extremely bad burns to human skin if it's exposed to it so between that and the breathing difficulties you can have being exposed to that, we're going to wait for specialized suits to get here and we're going to use breathing apparatus that the fire department would normally use in those situations," said Det. Sgt. Tom Williams, Vermont Deputy Fire Marshal.
Investigators say the origin of the fire was in the cold storage unit. They still don't know the cause, but it's not suspicious and damage is estimated at $2 million. The storage facility was destroyed and part of receiving, but the manufacturing operation appears unscathed. For now, the company's 100 employees are being paid while the company's executives-- based in Canada-- determine the plant's fate. They're waiting for more information from investigators and that could take some time.
"It is substantial. The majority of the structure is on the ground so when everything burns it burns into layers and piles so we have to remove pile by pile to see what's underneath it to rule out everything within the buildings. So it can be a rather lengthy process," Williams said.
The milk used by this plant comes exclusively from the state's farmers. Saputo accounts for a good chunk of the milk they produce-- about 12 percent of it. So Vermont's agriculture officials are deeply concerned about the fate of the company here. Governor Douglas has already phoned them and offered the state's support. For now, the milk is being diverted to other handlers such as Agrimark.
Sunday, March 9 2014 10:10 AM EDT2014-03-09 14:10:32 GMT
Two New Hampshire communities damaged by storms are getting federal help. Lincoln will get more than $4.5 million for a bridge repair from Tropical Storm Irene. FEMA also awarded Lebanon more than $3More >>
Two New Hampshire communities damaged by storms are getting federal help.More >>
Sunday, March 9 2014 10:09 AM EDT2014-03-09 14:09:58 GMT
This morning, Channel 3 has learned there will NOT be a bus strike Monday morning in Chittenden County. CCTA officials told us in a statement that after 19 hours of negotiations that went into the morningMore >>
This morning, Channel 3 has learned there will NOT be a bus strike Monday morning in Chittenden County.More >>
Sunday, March 9 2014 10:09 AM EDT2014-03-09 14:09:06 GMT
A Ken Burns documentary featuring Vermont students will have its premiere in Brattleboro. The film is called "The Address". It follows the 50 boys at the Greenwood School in Putney who have learningMore >>
A Ken Burns documentary featuring Vermont students will have its premiere in Brattleboro.More >>
Sunday, March 9 2014 10:03 AM EDT2014-03-09 14:03:58 GMT
New Hampshire police say a man is recovering after he accidentally shot himself. Claremont police tell us that the man was cleaning his gun Saturday night when it went off. He was taken to the hospitalMore >>
New Hampshire police say a man is recovering after he accidentally shot himself.More >>
Sunday, March 9 2014 9:59 AM EDT2014-03-09 13:59:53 GMT
This towering ice fortress is dazzling visitors to Loon Mountain in New Hampshire. "Yeah, this is a wow moment," says visitor Millie Gabriel. "It's an incredible feeling to see people really light upMore >>
If you're ready to see one more beautiful thing before we say hello to spring, then we've found the spot for you.More >>
Sunday, March 9 2014 9:53 AM EDT2014-03-09 13:53:41 GMT
When the Wild Center in Tupper Lake was looking at maple education programs, they hit a bit of a snag. "I took a survey of the 31 acres here at the museum and we only had one maple tree on the property,"More >>
The Community Maple program has been going for three years now, allowing people to take the sap from their backyard and learn how to turn it into syrup.
Sunday, March 9 2014 9:44 AM EDT2014-03-09 13:44:12 GMT
We've got some tasty ideas for this second Sunday in March! PANCAKE BREAKFAST This year is the 20th annual Franklin Fire Dept. Pancake breakfast at the Franklin Central School. They serve more than 2,000More >>
We've got some tasty ideas for this second Sunday in March!More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 9:49 PM EST2014-03-09 02:49:49 GMT
The Burlington Yoga Conference began Saturday at UVM's Davis Center. The event gives participants a chance to connect the mind body and soul through workshops they may not have access to on a daily basis.More >>
The Burlington Yoga Conference began 6 years ago and has become a staple in the community.More >>