Peat moss plant will be rebuilt after fire in Baie-Sainte-Anne

Fighting back tears, Jody Williston, a co-owner of Theriault and Hachey Peat Moss Ltd., says it was tough when he realized the peat moss plant that has been in his family for three generations could not be saved from fire.

Co-owner of Theriault and Hachey Peat Moss, says the fire directly affects 24 employees in the community

Jody Williston is a third-generation owner of Theriault and Hachey Peat Moss Ltd. in Baie-Sainte-Anne. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

Fighting back tears, Jody Williston, a co-owner of the Theriault and Hachey Peat Moss Ltd. says it was tough when he realized the peat moss plant that has been in his family for three generations could not be saved from fire. 

"It's a family business, it really hits us," Williston said Friday afternoon as he stood in front of the blackened and twisted walls.

Williston said the employees are sharing in the hurt of the loss of facility but he said it will be up and running again. 

"It's just a matter of time."

Fire destroyed the plant early Friday morning. (Photo submitted by Ligouri Turbide)

Williston, who co-owns the business with Matt Theriault, said it was a call from the alarm company at 12:30 a.m. that alerted them something was going on. Eight minutes later, Theriault was at the Baie-Sainte-Anne site, about 54 kilometres east of Miramichi, and confirmed there was a fire. 

"He said the plant was on fire and engulfed." 

Lots of support

But despite the loss of the factory, Williston said, he appreciates the support of the community and the quick response of the Baie-Sainte-Anne Fire Department. 

He's also grateful no one was working inside the plant when the fire broke out.

A fire that broke out early Friday morning has destroyed a peat moss plant in Baie-Sainte-Anne. 0:44

"We'll get through this," he said adding they've had offers of help from friends and competitors in the industry. "It's been really touching how people come out and support you." 

Willston, the vice-president of sales and marketing, said he's worked for the family company since he was a child. The business was started in 1963 by brothers Isaac and Louis Theriault. 

"It's a sizable company and we have a long history and a big family that's part of it. I think the whole community is feeling a loss right now," Williston said. 

No false alarm 

Ligouri Turbide, the fire chief of the Baie-Sainte-Anne Fire Department, said no one was injured in the blaze and nobody was inside the building when the fire broke out.

"We have quite a few alarms there, so we thought we were going there for a false alarm again but it wasn't a false alarm," said Turbide. "The plant was on fire."

Jody Williston, a co-owner of the plant, says it will be rebuilt. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

Turbide said the plant was shut down around 6 p.m. on Thursday and some employees were expected to start their shifts at 4 a.m. on Friday.

Firefighters remained on scene until about 6:30 a.m.

About 22 firefighters from the Baie-Sainte-Anne and Miramichi fire departments battled the fire.

"When I got there the plant was fully engulfed," Turbide said.

"The building's a total loss and this plant is very, very valuable."

He said both the plant and equipment inside it would be worth millions of dollars. 

Theriault said the fire directly affects 24 employees.

When the business is in full production, about 70 people work at the plant.

An impact on production

Williston said the plant has a good inventory of product on hand because the 2017 summer harvest was good. 

"We've been very busy until now packaging that product." 

The company also has raw material on hand that other peat moss plants have offered to package for them.  

"We'll work with the people who have offered to get the production made by them and also in-house, if we can, in our other existing factory that was used in the past." 

The cause of the fire at the Theriault and Hachey Peat Moss Ltd. plant is under investigation. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

Willston said the company is evaluating what it can do in that building, which is on the same site. 

He reassured employees they don't have to be worry about being out of work because there will be lots to do over the next few months with cleanup, maintenance and rebuilding. 

Willston said it's fortunate new equipment purchased with a grant from ACOA had not been delivered or installed. 

RCMP are still at the site and the Fire Marshal's Office will be conducting an investigation into what caused the fire.

With files from Catherine Harrop