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Covered Bridge Potato Chips owner says he'll rebuild N.B. plant destroyed by fire

A fire destroyed the manufacturing plant in Hartland last Friday. (Aidan Cox/CBC - image credit)
A fire destroyed the manufacturing plant in Hartland last Friday. (Aidan Cox/CBC - image credit)

The owner of a New Brunswick potato chip plant destroyed by fire says he plans to rebuild it in the same spot where it burned down.

Ryan Albright said he's been working with his insurance company, and while it will likely be a lengthy process, he hopes to rebuild the Covered Bridge Potato Chips manufacturing plant as soon as possible.

"We're also in full design mode, you know, trying to lay out building equipment, looking at timelines," Albright said in an interview Wednesday.

"But that'll be an evolving thing over the next days and weeks to come," he said, adding that he hopes the plant can will have increased processing capacity along with a more efficient manufacturing operation.

Covered Bridge Potato Chips founder and owner Ryan Albright says he's planning to rebuild the company's manufacturing plant after a fire destroyed the building last Friday.
Covered Bridge Potato Chips founder and owner Ryan Albright says he's planning to rebuild the company's manufacturing plant after a fire destroyed the building last Friday.

Covered Bridge Potato Chips founder and owner Ryan Albright says he's planning to rebuild the plant. (Aidan Cox/CBC)

The plant just off the Trans-Canada Highway went up in flames Friday afternoon, and by the next day, all that was left were the charred metal remains of the building and equipment.

No one was injured, but the plant alone employed about 120 people, and benefited local truckers and farmers in western New Brunswick.

The New Brunswick fire marshal is now investigating, and a cause has not been revealed.

18 years of work up in smoke

Albright said he's still waiting on the findings of the fire marshal's investigation but believes the fire started in the part of the plant where the potatoes are fried.

He said about 30 employees were at work when the fire started. At the time, Albright was driving to Bangor, Me., to meet his wife, a travel nurse.

About an hour into his drive, he said he received a call from an employee telling him about the fire

He turned around and drove back to the plant to find the building in flames.

A fire tore through the Covered Bridge Potato Chip factory in Hartland Friday, putting about 120 people out of work.
A fire tore through the Covered Bridge Potato Chip factory in Hartland Friday, putting about 120 people out of work.

A fire tore through the Covered Bridge Potato Chip factory but everyone still in the building got out safely and no one was injured. (Dustin Culberson/Facebook)

"Standing there watching it was, it was pretty devastating, you know, looking at the 18 years of your adult life being gone up in smoke."

But while the manufacturing plant was destroyed, Albright said that he feels fortunate no one was injured and that other crucial parts of the business are situated in other locations.

Those include two large shipping warehouses, a raw materials warehouse and the company's head office in Saint Thomas, about 10 kilometres away.

He said the warehouses still have products ready to be shipped to stores.

Also, in an effort to keep some production going, Albright said he's working on an interim arrangement that would allow the business to make potato chips at another local company's factory.

Working on next steps for employees

Albright said the company employed 185 people, with some having relocated permanently from other parts of the world, and others working under the federal temporary foreign worker program.

He said for the company's temporary foreign workers, he's working on flying them back to their home countries.

As for the other affected employees, Albright said the company has been trying to match them with other jobs in the community.

"A lot of our team said, you know, as soon as we rebuild they're [planning to come] back, and we hope that's the situation," he said.

"We have an amazing team, so you know, as some people move into some other jobs, you know, hoping that whenever we're back up and running, they know they're going to come back and join us again."

Information session Friday

Paul Bradley, a spokesperson for the provincial government, said WorkingNB, the province's employment agency, is working with the company on how to best support employees.

In an email, he said an employee information session will be held at the Best Western Plus Hotel and Convention Centre in Woodstock on Friday.

"This will provide an opportunity for the employees to gather information related to applying for insurance benefits through Service Canada and to hear about the services provided by WorkingNB counsellors," Bradley said.

Bradley said participants will be able to ask questions, and WorkingNB will be providing free counselling services to employees struggling to cope with what happened.

"The government remains committed to working with the company and its employees in the coming days, weeks and months and other events and supports will be planned and provided as they are needed," he said.