‘Devastated’: Potato chip factory in small New Brunswick town destroyed in large fire

Click to play video: 'Large potato chip factory burns down in N.B. town'
Large potato chip factory burns down in N.B. town
WATCH: Firefighters rushed to the scene of a large fire at the Covered Bridge Potato Chips factory in the New Brunswick town of Hartland on Friday evening. The fire took hours to put out and left only charred pieces of the New Brunswick landmark. Anna Mandin travelled to Hartland to investigate. – Mar 2, 2024

Firefighters from several departments rushed to the scene of a large fire at the Covered Bridge Potato Chips factory in the New Brunswick town of Hartland on Friday evening, as heavy smoke and flames filled the air across the Trans-Canada Highway.

In an interview with Global News Saturday morning, Roy Reid, the assistant chief at the Hartland Fire Department, said fire crews were notified about the blaze at about 5:45 p.m. March 1. The chip plant had a shift ongoing when the fire broke out, but all employees were said to have been evacuated safely without injury.

“When we arrived, there was smoke coming out of the building,” he said.

Firefighters were forced to exit the facility after about 15 minutes due to the intensity of the heat and smoke, he added.

“Then after about 20 minutes, the roof fell in.”

Story continues below advertisement

Twelve fire departments were dispatched to help combat the massive fire at one of the town’s largest employers. Reid said first responders worked to suppress the flames for about five hours before it began to die down.

Reid said one responding firefighter was taken to hospital due to stress.

“We kept a crew here all night for security, and to put out hot spots,” he added, noting that he doesn’t expect the fire to rekindle.

“It’s bad for the community, there were about 100 people employed here,” he said, adding that he hopes the owners will be able to rebuild.

The Covered Bridge Potato Chips factory on Saturday morning, following the evening of the fire. Anna Mandin

Shayon Siriwardhana, a supervisor who was running a shift when the fire started, said it was just another normal day before things took a turn.

Story continues below advertisement

“We had an incident in the fryer room that escalated to a big fire. We couldn’t control it, so we called the fire brigade,” he said, adding that his main concern at the time was the safety of his coworkers.

“We made sure that everyone was out. I went and checked some of the rooms that people might be in to make sure they were all out.”

He said the blaze started in a fryer machine and quickly spread through the building.

“It never happened before. This is the first time something like this happened,” Sirnwaldena said.

“I feel sad because there are people who work with me that come in day in and day out because they love this place … everyone’s like family, pretty much.”

Global News reached out to the owners of Covered Bridge Potato Chips but didn’t receive a response in time for publication.

Karen Taylor, a resident in the area, said she was driving down the highway when she saw a lot of “black smoke and brightness.”

“The closer I got, I said ‘Oh my word’, and I was just hoping and praying everyone got out safe and sound,” she said.

“The people that own it here are local people. They employ a lot of people and it’s good for the community. They also have tours for people to come and see.”

Story continues below advertisement

Taylor said she’s confident that the establishment will rebuild the factory.

Roy Reid, the assistant fire chief at the Hartland Fire Department, said efforts continued for about five hours before the blaze was contained. Anna Mandin

‘It was the best job’

Patricia Kinney, who’s been with Covered Bridge Chips for six months, said her sister-in-law called to tell her about the condition of her workplace on Friday night.

She said her initial thoughts were filled with worry regarding her job status.

“Got no job, how am I going to pay my bills, (I’m going to) miss working with all the workers here,” she said. “It was the best job. It was just friendly.”

Kinney said she isn’t sure what she’ll do next, but she “hopes and prays” that the job opens back up.

“My husband worked there with me, my son did work there, my son’s girlfriend worked there. I had cousins that worked there,” she said, noting the factory brought a lot of work to the community.

Story continues below advertisement

“If this job opens, I’m there. I hope they will reopen again.”

In a social media post, the Hartland Legion shared its thoughts with the town on behalf of its members.

“We’d like to express our heartfelt sorrow at the loss of a major local employer, and community business. The fire at Covered Bridge Chips leaves many local residents without employment, hopefully temporarily,” the statement read.

“As members of the community we and our members feel the pain of your loss. We also thank the tireless work of our emergency responders during this trying time.”

According to the company’s website, Covered Bridge is a “fourth-generation family business” with an origin story dating back to the 1920s. In 2004, the company launched as a potato distribution operation before expanding into chip production in 2009.

“Their kettle-cooked chips became an immediate local and regional hit and has since spread to North American markets,” read the ‘our story’ section of Covered Bridge’s website, adding that the company now has multiple locations with more than 500 acres of potatoes grown annually.

Sponsored content