PORTAGE, Wisconsin. – In a very difficult Wisconsin environmental situation, a Portage dairy plant collapsed in a fire Monday night that spilled warmed butter into the historic Portage Canal.
Fire crews have been dispatched to Associated Milk Producers in Portage, according to the Portage Fire Department.
While first responders found heavy smoke and fire coming from the factory when they arrived, the main obstacles to fighting the fire were heavy smoke and melted butter.
The fire started in a butter storage room at the factory, firefighters said. Melted sweet cream began to flow through the building as it warmed up, slowing firefighters as they tried to get inside the factory.
After several hours, the fire was extinguished. No injuries were reported and local agencies are still determining the cause of the fire.
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Portage Fire Chief Troy Haase said although the melted butter was “99% contained” in the plant, some of the liquid spilled into the nearby Portage Canal, a historic waterway.
The spill was floating above the channel in an area about 30 by 20 feet wide, Haase said. The fire department said a hazmat team dealt with the mess in the canal using boom absorbents, which are also used to control oil spills.
The AMPI butter mess isn’t nearly as big as the 1991 “butter fire” at the Central Storage & Warehouse Co. in Madison, but it presents similar environmental challenges. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, butter spills can mimic the negative effects of petroleum-based oil spills, such as bad odors and damage to plants and animals.
The Portage Canal, which was completed in 1876, was the subject of a decades-long cleanup and restoration project by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
In a statement on Thursday, the DNR said about 20 gallons of butter ended up in the canal during the fire and have since been removed, with “minimal” environmental impact so far. Most of the butter leaving the factory was sent to a local sewage treatment plant, which was operating normally.