KAMLOOPS – Members of the Blackwell family, employees and neighbours looked on at the smouldering and charred rubble that used to house the Blackwell Dairy farm processing plant. Some wiped away tears, others stared silently, hands in pockets, as firefighters pulled wreckage from the enormous brick building.
No animals were harmed and there were no injuries in the fire that owner Ted Blackwell estimates caused $3.5 million in damage. This is no small time operation. Blackwell Dairy ships products from Revelstoke to Boston Bar and from Clearwater to Keremeos and everywhere in between.
According to Ted's daughter, Laura Hunter, The Blackwell Dairy operation processes about 20 per cent of their own milk and receives the rest from the B.C. Milk Board, which collects it from across the Interior. Hunter says while they have to shut down, producers that supplied milk to Blackwell Dairy won't be affected.
Ted was forced to watch as fire tore through his family's legacy late last night. Firefighters were called to the Barnhartvale farm around 11:30 p.m. last night, June 14.
Despite the tragic setback, Ted and the Blackwell family are determined to rebuild and get back in business.
"There's a few times I had to go by myself," Ted says, wiping away a tear. "You think you are a strong person but there are little things that seem to take over that strength."
As he watched the devastating fire, Ted said all he could think of was how long it would take to get everything running again.
The Blackwell family is deeply rooted in Kamloops and has lived in the area for more than a century. Ted's grandfather Milton Blackwell settled about a mile away, in the Barnhartvale area in 1913. In 1929 Milton built the farmhouse, now adjacent to the processing plant, that Ted and his wife Gerri live in now.
Ted estimates it'll take at least six months to rebuild and is determined to get rolling again.
"Our customers' needs are every day. There are about 300 major [stores]. How are we going to make sure they get the product without any shortfalls?" he says.
Carrie Leonard, a long time family friend, was at the farm today, June 15, handing out muffins and coffee to anyone who needed an energy boost.
Leonard says the Blackwells would've stepped up in a heartbeat if anyone else was in need.
"They are hard working people. It's just devastating," she says. "It's a true family business that works so hard to support each other."
Leonard says moving ahead will be challenging, but the Blackwells have support from friends and the community.
"It's not just a farm, it's their whole life. They worked on this farm with their grandparents, and aunts and uncles," she says.
While sending product elsewhere to be processed is an option, Ted is reluctant to put the Blackwell label on anything that isn't processed on the family farm.
"We think it's a damn good business and it isn't going away," he says.
The Blackwell family will have to balance the drastic rebuild with the daily farm responsibilities.
"We have a large farm to look after," Ted says, head held high, gazing at the destruction. "So we have a lot of work to do still."
To contact a reporter for this story, email Kim Anderson or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.
We welcome your comments and opinions on our stories but play nice. We won't censor or delete comments unless they contain off-topic statements or links, unnecessary vulgarity, false facts, spam or obviously fake profiles. If you have any concerns about what you see in comments, email the editor in the link above.