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118-Year-Old Canadian Dairy Gutted by Fire
USAgNet - 02/06/2013

A cheese factory outside Ottawa, Ontario, was gutted by a fire. Police and fire officials raced to a blaze at the St. Albert Cheese Factory in the town of St. Albert around 9:45 a.m..

Crews from several nearby fire departments are on hand to battle the blaze at the century-old dairy plant, which is an important part of the small town’s cultural heritage. Police evacuated more than a dozen homes south of the fire scene over concerns that chemicals in the factory may pollute the air.

The 118-year-old St. Albert Cooperative was destroyed by a massive fire over the weekend. The Globe and Mail reports that $3.5-million worth of dairy products was also lost in the blaze, including a supply of the fromagerie’s prized cheese curds.

Many people consider it the biggest catastrophe in Canada since the great Maple Syrup Heist of 2012.

The factory is co-owned by some 50 producers and employs upwards of 60 people who work on its line of cheddars, curds and other dairy products. Some local families can trace their employment at the factory back five generations.

It was founded in 1894 and its products are available at stores across Canada. It is one of the oldest francophone co-operative farms in the province and produces cheese curds coveted by restaurants across central Canada.

The Wall Street Journal reported on the blaze, learning that at least one Ottawa restaurateur has stockpiled St. Albert cheese curds out of a fear there would be a shortage.

Co-op General Manager Rejean Ouimet told reporters the co-op is aiming to rebuild the plant by September, though he said it could take as long as December.

"We were so proud about this place. Everybody was proud, not only me. Everyone around this eastern part of Ontario. We're known across Canada. I'm sure we're going to rebuild. I'm sure," said Ouimet.

But Ouimet said new product would be on the shelves in a few weeks. The cooperative also has a production plant in Mirabel, Quebec, and Ouimet said arrangements could be made with other local cheese producers.

Meanwhile, residents are faced with public health concerns. CBC News reported late Tuesday that St. Albert residents were told during a evening meeting not to drink well water because the plant used chemicals such as ammonia. Public health officials fear there has been groundwater contamination, and residents shouldn't use the water for anything other than flushing their toilets, CBC News reported. The Red Cross is now in the village of 600 people to help distribute potable water.

"You can't drink, bathe, or wash with that water," explained Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, Medical Officer of Health for Eastern Ontario. Dr. Roumeliotis says it will take several days for final test results.

"It's devastating," Nation Township mayor Francois St-Amour told reporters. "It's a big impact but they're very hearty people. They'll get back on their feet."

Canada's poutine aficionados are wishing St. Albert a speedy recovery, newspapers reported.

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