SKOWHEGAN — The production facility for Gifford’s Famous Ice Cream was heavily damaged Thursday by a fire that began in the plant’s processing area, according to officials.

Gifford’s CEO Lindsay Gifford Skilling said firefighters had the flames under control within an hour at the plant at 25 Hathaway St., just south of downtown Skowhegan.

She said the processing area on the first floor is where milk and cream are mixed as part of the production process.

“There were people inside when it started, but everyone is out safely,” she said. “No one was hurt.”

Firefighters battle a fire Thursday at the production facility for Gifford’s Famous Ice Cream at 25 Hathaway St. in Skowhegan. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Chief Ronnie Rodriguez of the Skowhegan Fire Department said officials received the call at 9:35 a.m. and at least 40 firefighters responded  from Skowhegan and several surrounding communities, including Athens, Clinton, Fairfield, Madison, Norridgewock, Oakland, Solon and Waterville.

Rodriguez said when firefighters arrived, black smoke was pushing hard out of the eaves, a gable vent on the third floor and an exhaust fan. Fire was in an open loft, traveling along the ceiling, he said.


Damage to first- and second-floor offices and the processing area was significant, according to Rodriguez.

“You just don’t like seeing staple businesses that support the community and are vital to the community suffering a large loss like this,” he said.

Firefighters worked in 12-degree temperatures as water quickly froze in lower areas. By 10:50 a.m., smoke was still coming out of the third-floor gable vent firefighters accessed using a ladder truck.

The layout of the plant caused some difficulty for firefighters as they worked to fight the fire, Rodriguez said.

“You can tell that they’ve added on over the years,” he said, “and because of that, you have to snake your way around.”

Additions to the building included a $1.6 million expansion announced in 2015 that added about 3,800 square feet. Company officials at the time said it was the most significant expansion in its history. Gifford’s has been in operation for nearly 50 years, and its products are steeped in Maine consumer culture.


The ice cream produced in Skowhegan is served at all Gifford’s locations in New England.

It was not clear Thursday how the fire damage will impact the company’s production in the coming weeks or months.

Skowhegan police blocked a portion of Fairview Avenue on Thursday so firefighters could attach a hose to a hydrant and not worry about vehicles traveling over it.

The cause of the fire was not immediately known, and investigators from the Office of State Fire Marshal were called in to assist.

Rodriguez said after the fire was brought under control, firefighters were focused on the overhaul phase.

“We’re looking for hidden fires, embers, rekindle,” he said. “We don’t like rekindle.”


He began releasing some firefighters to their communities as others continued working.

“When you’ve got something like this that requires a lot of resources,” he said, “it drains the rural area of their personnel and their protection, so as soon as we can we cut them loose.”

Capt. Daryl Wyman, right, and firefighter Kristi Poland of the Skowhegan Fire Department carry a hose Thursday after gaining access to a window while checking for flames at the production facility for Gifford’s Famous Ice Cream at 25 Hathaway St. in Skowhegan. The firefighters were also working to ventilate the building. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

A Central Maine Power Co. crew arrived to cut power to the building, Rodriguez said.

Standing in the cold street, Skilling, the Gifford’s CEO, praised the firefighters, who she said responded quickly.

“We owe them a lot,” she said. “They did an awesome job. We’re very proud to have them here to help us.”

Hathaway Street runs between Fairview Avenue and South Factory Street. The plant is just west of Mechanic Street.

Many years ago, the plant was Hunt’s Dairy, which sold the property to Gifford’s.

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