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Fire Damages Saranac Brewery

Fire officials began an investigation of the cause of a smoky fire at F.X. Matt brewery, maker of Saranac beer and ale, in Utica, N.Y.

UTICA, N.Y. (AP) -- Fire officials began an investigation of the cause of a smoky fire at F.X. Matt brewery, maker of Saranac beer and ale, as four fire companies battled flames in the brick building and residents were evacuated from a six-block area Thursday evening.

Utica Fire Chief Russell Brooks said the only injuries were to two brewery employees who were in satisfactory condition at a city hospital where they were treated for smoke inhalation.

The fire began around 4:45 p.m., shortly after the start of the Saranac Thursday music event as flames erupted from the part of the brewery right behind the concert stage. The event was canceled and the venue evacuated. As of 8:30 p.m., the fire still wasn't under control, Brooks said.

Meghan Fraser, marketing coordinator for the brewery, said the fire was in a building involved in processing and canning and a lot of smoke was coming from packaging and plastic. She said everyone was evacuated.

Fred Matt, vice president of the brewery, told the Utica Observer-Dispatch that two employees had smoke inhalation issues but everyone got out safely. He said the fire could have a serious impact on business because the building houses the brewery's canning operations.

Fire Marshal Raymond Beck said investigators were interviewing people in the area but were uncertain when they'd be able to inspect the building because of the potential of collapse. Large cracks were visible in the four-story structure.

Beck said it's believed that the fire started on the second floor at a machine that puts plastic around six-packs. He said the roof and third floor collapsed.

''There's a high potential the bottle building will be a total loss,'' Beck said. ''Everything has been shut down at this time.''

The New Hartford, Whitesboro, New York Mills and Utica fire departments were on the scene.

''We will rebuild. We've been in business 120 years,'' Matt said. ''This is a speed bump.''

Mayor David Roefaro said he was preparing a proclamation commemorating the 10th year of Saranac beer when the fire broke out. He said he spoke to Gov. David Paterson about the fire and the governor told him the state will help out with economic development aid or whatever was needed.

Common Councilman Jim Zecca said the brewery is a cornerstone of the city, and the fire was a disaster for the community.

''It's a beautiful facility, and it looks like it's going to be a total loss, from what I can see,'' Zecca said. ''I hope they're going to rebuild and move on from this.''

Daniel Gundersen, upstate chairman of Empire State Development Corp., said the Matt brewery is a long-standing Mohawk Valley employer and producer of an ''iconic brand.''

''We have alerted Gov. Paterson of this tragic event and will be reaching out to this venerable organization to offer our support in helping them rebuild and reclaim their place as one of the country's outstanding specialty brewers,'' Gundersen said.

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