Firefighters battle a fire Thursday at the production facility for Gifford’s Famous Ice Cream at 25 Hathaway St. in Skowhegan. Fire Chief Ronnie Rodriguez said Friday that the fire began when a heat gun was left on while atop a pallet of combustible materials in a walk-in freezer. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

SKOWHEGAN — A fire that heavily damaged offices and a production area at Gifford’s Famous Ice Cream started in a walk-in freezer where a heat gun was left on while atop a pallet of combustible material, Skowhegan fire Chief Ronnie Rodriguez said Friday.

He said the Office of Maine State Fire Marshal investigated the blaze and told him of the determination.

“The cause is accidental,” Rodriguez said, explaining that the pallet of combustibles was inside the freezer on the first floor facing Hathaway Street.

Gifford’s was continuing to assess the status of its production plant a day after the fire.

It was unclear Friday to what extent the damage has impacted Gifford’s ability to produce ice cream or whether the company has the ability to continue doing so.

“Right now the Gifford’s team is assessing the damage and this is all of the information that we can provide at this time,” said Lauren Healy, a marketing manager for a Westbrook-based company that contracts with Gifford’s.


Healy said about 35 people were inside the plant Thursday when the fire started at about 9:30 a.m. in a processing room. Everyone was able to get out safely and no one was injured, Healy said in an email Friday.

“The Gifford’s family is thankful for the outpouring of support from the community,” she said.

Rodriguez said Gifford’s is an important company to not only Skowhegan, but also the state and beyond.

“They’re an institution, and it’s more than one — it affects a lot of people — so we’re glad that we were able to make a good stop on (the fire),” he said.

The Fire Department completed its work in the building, which was insured, according to Rodriguez. “We turned it over yesterday to the owners,” he said.

Skowhegan Town Manager Christine Almand echoed Rodriguez’s sentiments.


“Gifford’s Famous Ice Cream — we certainly would like to see them continue to succeed — and hope they get back on their feet as soon as possible,” she said Friday.

At least 40 firefighters responded to 25 Hathaway St. 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, as well as from a gable vent on the third floor and an exhaust fan. Fire was in an open loft, traveling along the ceiling, he said.

Firefighters worked in 12-degree temperatures as water quickly froze in lower areas. A ladder truck was used to give firefighters access to the third-floor gable vent. The layout of the plant caused some difficulty for firefighters as they worked to fight the fire, Rodriguez said at the scene.

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

Company CEO Lindsay Gifford Skilling said at the scene Thursday that the processing area on the first floor is where milk and cream are mixed as part of the production process.

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