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Dairy Plant Fire Causes Flood Of Butter

Butter fires are a slippery foe for firefighters.

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Francesca Benson

Copy Editor and Staff Writer

clockJan 5 2023, 14:25 UTC
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Melted butter being spooned out of a metal pot into a bowl.

Definitely not as delicious as it sounds. Image Credit: Mateusz Suska/Shutterstock.com

Fire crews were called to a dairy plant in Wisconsin to battle a buttery blaze on Monday, January 2. According to the Portage Fire Department, a fire broke out in a butter storage room at Associated Milk Producers Inc, melting it and causing it to “flow throughout the structure”.

“The butter was running down like 3 inches [7.62 centimeters] thick on the steps so our guys were up to their knees trying to go up the steps to get to the top and they’re trying to drag the hose line, the hose line got so full of butter they couldn’t hang onto it anymore,” Portage Fire Chief Troy Haase told NBC15.

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“Fire crews attempted to gain access from each end of the structure to control fire spread but due to the heavy smoke and runoff they couldn’t proceed,” the fire department wrote on Facebook. “The butter runoff and heavy smoke slowed access to the structure. After multiple hours with many crews the fire was contained and extinguished before it could spread past the firewalls and throughout the building.”

The cause of the blaze is still being investigated at the time of writing. Luckily, employees were evacuated and no injuries have been reported. Unfortunately, the flow of melted dairy made its way into the Portage Canal, which, as CBS notes, is a historical landmark with recent plans for restoration.

However, this isn’t Wisconsin’s first rodeo when it comes to butter fire floods. The Great Butter Fire of 1991 happened at the Central Storage and Warehouse Company in Madison, a cold storage unit containing 22.7 million kilograms (50 million pounds) of food, including millions of pounds of butter. It caught ablaze on May 3, 1991, due to a faulty forklift battery.

There were “flames 300 feet [91 meters] high,” firefighter Lt Gordon Berggren told NBC15 in 2011. "Two - three feet [0.6-0.9 meters] of butter you're wading through... some of our lines got cut off... we couldn't find where our equipment was."

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“It literally was a river of butter [...] Gooey, gelatinous stuff flowed out of the building,” Madison Fire Department Chief Steven Davis told Tone Madison in 2021. “I had butter in places a guy shouldn’t have butter by the end of that night.”

“'What we've got is a massive grease fire,” Madison East Department Fire Chief Ron Schmelzer told UPI in 1991. “I couldn't even begin to estimate how many millions of gallons of water were dumped on this thing.”

The fire took eight days to put out, with 3,000 local residents evacuated as the fire approached ammonia tanks at the facility. An emergency worker also told UPI that what was believed to be sulfuric acid was removed from one building to prevent contact with the ammonia. Four minor injuries were reported.

The memories (and stench) of that day still live on: "The smell comes back once in a while .. even here. It was a really bad smell and I really honestly still don't eat hot dogs to this day because of that," Berggren told NBC15.

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“On a hot, humid day in the summer, you can still once in a while catch that vague stench almost 30 years later even though the building’s been remodeled,” Davis told Tone Madison. “It was between that and all the hams that we saw floating in the river of butter […] I didn’t eat ham for a little while after that.”


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