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RCMP, fire marshal investigating blaze that destroyed N.B potato chip factory

FREDERICTON — A fire that destroyed a potato chip factory in Waterville, N.B., has triggered a police investigation and an outpouring of support from residents who say they'll do all they can to help keep a long-time local employer afloat.

Lifelong Hartland, N.B.-area resident Tammey Mclean says news of the fire devastated the community, and sent droves of people to the store to stock up on Covered Bridge Potato Chips.

“Right now the community is really in mourning. For a big company factory like that to be lost to a fire, we’re all just in shock over the whole thing,” she said in an interview Sunday.

In hopes of supporting the company while stocking up on her favourite chips in case there’s a disruption in the supply, Mclean said she bought five bags of Covered Bridge chips.

“I posted (on Facebook) about the chips I bought after the fire and my friends were sharing it, and lots of people are commenting that they had gone out and bought chips too.”

Mclean snapped a photo of a sign posted on the Covered Bridge Storm Chips display at her local Sobeys grocery store that read: “our heartfelt condolences go out to the Covered Bridge family and team. We appreciate all that you have done for our surrounding communities.”

According to the chip company’s website, brothers Matt and Ryan Albright started a potato distribution company in 2004, and in 2009 production of Covered Bridge Potato Chips began at the Waterville factory.

“The Albrights are local farmers... They’re a big name around here, they help a lot of people,” Mclean said.

Mclean, who said she knows the Albright family, estimates around 100 people from the area work at the factory. The company could not immediately be reached.

New Brunswick RCMP spokesman Sgt. Dan Sharpe said in an interview Sunday the 20 to 30 people who were at the Covered Bridge Potato Chips factory when the blaze broke out around 6 p.m. Friday evacuated safely, and no injuries have been reported.

Several regional fire departments responded to the fire that was reported around 6 p.m. Friday, with crews on scene battling the flames until Saturday morning.

Sharpe said the factory building was completely destroyed in the “very large-scale” blaze, and the RCMP and the New Brunswick Fire Marshal are investigating the cause of the fire.

Premier Blaine Higgs issued a statement Saturday with Margaret Johnson and Greg Turner, the province's agriculture and labour ministers, calling the fire a "heartbreaking loss."

The statement says the factory has become a key source of employment in the region, as well as a destination for many tourists who have toured the factory since it opened in 2009.

“I can’t imagine what the Albright family is going through right now, but I can tell you that they’ve got big community support. We’re really hoping they rebuild,” Mclean said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2024.

— By Lyndsay Armstrong in Halifax.

The Canadian Press