One year later: family announces Belfast potato processing plant will not be rebuilt

Published: Mar. 24, 2023 at 5:39 PM EDT
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BELFAST, Maine (WABI) - It’s been a year since the City of Belfast was flipped upside down by a fire that destroyed the Penobscot McCrum factory, but with grit and resiliency of the community, this was the first step towards rebuilding.

“It’s a miracle. It’s a miracle no one got hurt,” said Belfast Mayor Eric Sanders.

“You know, that was really probably one of the largest hazards that we’ve had to face in quite a while, you know, right there at that facility and for everybody to see that and realize that, you know, that drew a lot of attention and a lot of support for all the agencies involved,” said Belfast Fire Chief Patrick Richards.

In the early hours of March 24, 2022, crews from multiple towns responded to the blaze at the Penobscot McCrum factory that investigators say started in one of the fryolator machines and quickly spread.

A shelter in place order was enacted and RSU 71 cancelled school for the day as a safety precaution with the potential of chemicals being released.

Luckily, none of the 138 employees were injured, but the instant concern of what next flooded the minds of the entire community. The city used their Keep the Faith fund to help the workers.

“How is this going to impact the people that work there? So, immediately the City of Belfast jumped that day. We had Hannaford gift cards into their paychecks immediately. The following week, the City of Belfast had $500 paychecks into their next paycheck. And then following that, several weeks, another just because just to help these folks with the transition. Our community really came together to do that,” said City Manager Erin Herbig.

The factory had been a big part of the city for many years. Residents are reminded daily of the hole that now exists once used to be a leader for processing one of our state’s delicacies.

“A lot of pride in the fact that we, you know, we processed potatoes, and, you know, it’s an important part of the town. It was just as important as anything else. So, when I drive by and I don’t see it, I remember it, and I hope whether it’s there or some other place that we have other businesses like that, that continue to decide to come here to grow and be a part of our community,” Sanders said.

A year later, the McCrum family has announced they will be expanding their location in Washburn in Aroostook County but will not be rebuilding at the site. However, the City will continue to evolve while working together toward a brighter future.

“That’s what Belfast does. We were met with a challenge, and we turn it around, and usually something really beautiful comes of it,” Herbig said.