Fire at St. Lawrence County Cooperative Extension Learning Farm shuts down maple sugaring
Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 5:39 pm



A fuel oil leak is being blamed for the fire that severely damaged Cooperative Extension’s maple sap evaporator Tuesday night. Photo courtesy of WWNY-tv.


CANTON – A fire in the maple sap evaporator at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County Learning Farm Tuesday evening has put their sugaring operation on hold right at the beginning of the season.

The county CCE’s executive director, Patrick Ames, says they are still sorting out where they stand and what has to be done to get the sugar shack back in shape.

“We don’t know as of yet” what the fire inspectors will name as the official cause of the fire, but it is pretty clear that there was “some kind of malfunction in the feed to the arch,” or the oil burner, where the fuel escaped and the flame was no longer confined to the arch, Ames said.

The evaporator was apparently the only casualty of the fire. The building was not damaged.

“Staff were not able to put the fire out,” so they called 911 at about 8:30 p.m.

Canton firefighters responded quickly and “dismantled the unit as they put the fire out,” said Ames. He said the fire bricks that insulate the unit are out in the parking lot.

“We don’t know if it’s a total loss. We’ve got calls out to some professional vendors to help us evaluate it,” and the insurance company has been notified.

“We’ll assess what needs to be done.”

The plan is to replace parts and get it running again, maybe before the end of the season, though Ames says that’s doubtful.

Meanwhile 11 school groups have scheduled tours during the mapling season, so Cooperative Extension and 4-H will be improvising to provide a full program for them.

“We hope to run sugarbush walks and talks about the process, the biology, and the history” of sugaring in the North Country, “and other things to augment the time they would have had in the sugar shack. We might show them how we work with tubing , or maybe set up an outside evaporator” to show the kids some traditional sap evaporating.

“We had a brief 4-H meeting this morning and discussed maybe doing some ‘value-added’ work making confections.”

As for the supply of sap they have on hand and which will grow during the season, “we have a couple of choices. We can sell the sap or we could hire a neighboring sugarbush operation to evaporate for us.

“There’s a slim chance we could be operational before the end of the season,” Ames said, which no doubt would be encouraging to the folks at the Learning Farm.