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River of melted butter spills into Wisconsin canal after fire at dairy plant

Firefighters on the scene were "up to their knees" in melted butter trying to get up the steps of the dairy factory.

A recent incident at a Wisconsin dairy factory resulted in quite a slippery situation for first responders.

On Jan. 2, a fire broke out at Associated Milk Producers Inc. dairy plant in Portage, Wisconsin in a part of the building that was storing butter. The fire caused so much butter to melt that a molten river flowed from the factory into the Portage Canal that runs beside the factory.

The fire at Associated Milk Producers Inc. in Portage, Wisconsin.
The fire at Associated Milk Producers Inc. in Portage, Wisconsin.Gunnar Bortz / NBC15

AMPI owns several cheese and butter manufacturing plants where about 10% of the American-type cheese and butter in the U.S. is produced, according to the company. Though no cheese was involved in this fire, plenty of butter was.

When firefighters from Portage Fire Department arrived on scene at approximately 9:15 p.m. that night, they were greeted with fire and smoke coming from the roof of the building — but there was more than simply that to contend with, according to an account of the incident posted on Facebook.

The buttery mess in the canal.
The buttery mess in the canal.Phoebe Murray / NBC15

“The fire started in a room where butter was being stored and as it was heated it began to flow throughout the structure,” reads a Facebook post from Portage Fire Department posted the following morning on Jan. 3, adding that the butter runoff and heavy smoke slowed access to the structure.

“After multiple hours with many crews the fire was contained and extinguished before it could spread past the firewalls and throughout the building."

The buttery mess in the canal.
The buttery mess in the canal.Phoebe Murray / NBC15

Fire crews from nearby stations assisted in combating the fire, including from Pardeeville, Poynette and seven others.

Emergency medical services were on scene to track firefighter health, but there were no injuries reported. According to a report by Madison NBC affiliate WMTV, neighbors reported being able to smell butter in the air during the incident.

Reporter Phoebe Murray in front of the buttery mess in the canal.
Reporter Phoebe Murray in front of the buttery mess in the canal.NBC15

WMTV also reported that there were 30 employees in AMPI’s Portage plant at the time of the fire, but they were also all able to exit the building safely.

Still, it proved very difficult for the firefighters to get into building to do their job because of the slippery substance.

“When we first tried to go up the stairs to that part that collapsed, this stuff, the butter was running down like three inches thick on the steps,” Portage Fire Department chief Troy Haase told WMTV. “So our guys were up to their knees trying to go up the steps to get to the top and they’re trying to drag the hose line, the hose line got so full of butter they couldn’t hang onto it anymore."

The buttery mess in the canal.
The buttery mess in the canal.Phoebe Murray / NBC15

The Portage County Hazmat Team also attempted to contain the runoff from seeping into the storm sewers and into the canal. Responders placed flood barriers (called booms) and other absorbents to help control the buttery runoff, but according to accounts, it was simply too much to completely contain. By the next morning, there were cooled chunks of butter floating in the canal.

“Part of AMPI’s roof has caved in, Portage Fire is back on scene assessing the damage this morning,” tweeted WMTV reporter Phoebe Murray, who shared photos in a follow-up tweet showing sheets of hardened butter floating in the water behind the plant at around 9 a.m.

According to Murray, the Portage County Hazmat Team spent the following morning siphoning the butter from the canal, attempting to contain the runoff into the storm sewers nearby.

“Butter clean-up!” tweeted WMTV reporter Marcus Aarsvold on Jan. 3. “The City of Portage Wisconsin is planning to remove butter that spilled into the canal after last night’s fire at AMPI’s dairy plant.”

The Department of Natural Resources also assessed the runoff that day and, according to the video in Aarsvold’s tweet, by 2 p.m., after being siphoned by the cargo-full into trucks nearby, most of the butter that had reached the canal had been removed.