Fire damages production facility for Gifford’s ice cream in Skowhegan

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Firefighters attack a fire from the third story of the production facility for Gifford’s Ice Cream in Skowhegan on Thursday. A company executive said the fire began in a processing area where milk and cream is mixed as part of the production of the company’s well-kown ice cream brands. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

SKOWHEGAN — The production facility for Gifford’s Famous Ice Cream was heavily damaged in a fire Thursday that began in the plant’s processing area, according to authorities.

Gifford’s Chief Executive Officer Lindsay Gifford Skilling said firefighters had the flames under control within an hour at the plant on Hathaway Street, just south of downtown Skowhegan.

She explained that the processing area is where milk and cream is mixed as part of the production process.

“There were people inside when it started but everyone is out safely,” she said. “No one was hurt.”

Skowhegan fire Chief Ronnie Rodriguez said the fire call was received at 9:35 a.m. and led to a response by at least 40 firefighters from Skowhegan and several surrounding towns, including Athens, Clinton, Fairfield, Madison, Norridgewock and Waterville.

“You just don’t like seeing staple businesses that support the community and are vital to the community suffering a large loss like this,” Rodriguez said.

The layout of the plant caused some difficulty for firefighters, he said.

“You can tell that they’ve added on over the years and because of that you have to snake your way around,” he said.

Those additions include a $1.6 million expansion first announced in 2015 that added about 3,800 square feet to the plant. Company executives at the time said it was the most significant expansion in its history. Gifford’s has been in operation for nearly 50 years and its products are steeped in Maine consumer culture.

The ice cream produced in Skowhegan is served at all Gifford’s locations in New England.

Skowhegan police on Thursday blocked a portion of Fairview Avenue so that firefighters could attach a hose to a hydrant and not worry about vehicles traveling over it.

This story will be updated.

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