Fire breaks out at Portage cheese packaging plant

Estimated damages not clear but plant closed at least 1 day

A fire caused damage at a cheese packaging plant in Portage Friday night.

Columbia County Sheriff’s Office said Friday that firefighters responded to a report of a fire at 301 Brooks St. at about 7 p.m. Firefighters fought the blaze at Associated Milk Producers Inc. building and were still at the scene after 10 p.m.

Portage resident Walt Gjavenis lives on Washington Street near the plant and saw the fire when he returned home Friday night at about 11 p.m.

“The smoke was billowing out very heavy,” Gjavenis said. “I could … smell wet, burning cardboard. It was overpowering at times.”

AMPI spokeswoman Sarah Schmidt said that the fire was contained to the first floor dry storage and ingredient warehouse. There are no cheese products kept in those areas, she said. However, officials were still assessing the damage Saturday afternoon and an estimate of supplies lost and building damage from the blaze were not available.

Schmidt said about 70 employees were at the plant when the fire broke out, but all immediately evacuated and none were injured. The plant was closed Saturday.

AMPI said employees of the Portage plant should not to return to work until they hear from their supervisor or human resources.

The Portage AMPI plant packages cheese products, including shredded natural cheese and sliced processed cheese, that are sold primarily to food service customers like restaurants. Schmidt said the Portage building had not had a fire before Friday night.