Kenaf Bales, Hemp Plants, and Farm Supplies Inside Building Destroyed
By Kay Whatley (The Grey Area News) and Rhiannon Fionn (Carolina Cannabis News)
An early morning fire in Bunn, North Carolina dealt a blow to a Franklin County farmer. Multiple fire departments, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, EMS, and Emergency Services responded to the blaze that engulfed a warehouse containing property of farmer Elmer “Mann” Mullen.
No one was injured in the fire.
The warehouse, located inside the Montclair Complex on NC-98 E in Bunn, NC, caught fire January 11, 2019. The largest of the three complex buildings was affected, a warehouse where Mullen grew hemp plants and stored kenaf bales. Kenaf and hemp are dried on the property, though a second building containing the drying equipment and harvested hemp was not impacted by the fire.
Fire departments responding included the Bunn Rural Fire Department, Pilot, Louisburg, Ferrells, Justice, Wake Forest, and several others.
To assist fire fighters, drones were piloted over the scene, first by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, then by Wake Forest Fire Department. Videos and photographs, along with thermal imagery, allowed the fire crews to better pinpoint what was going on inside the warehouse.
Around noon, a decision was made to allow the fire to burn and consume the warehouse, for safety reasons.
By 2pm, part of the warehouse roof was collapsed, flames were visible through three sides, and ash was raining down. A Franklin County Emergency Services man, though stationed near the Montclair Complex gate, had ash covering his shoulders and hair.
At several points in the afternoon, fire crews sprayed water into the warehouse, or onto nearby equipment, to tamp down flames.
From the Bunn Food Lion plaza to Sledge Road, NC-98 Hwy East was closed. The Franklin County Sheriff’s deputies directed traffic, closing the road through to the afternoon. Bunn schools advised parents in-advance that buses might experience delays, likely due to the closures and emergency vehicle traffic.
By 2pm, as Bunn Rural Fire Department continued watch over the fire, several of the responding fire departments packed up their equipment and left the scene. Bunn Rural FD plans to keep watch, with the warehouse estimated to burn for at least two more days. Their procedures may include fire crews posted at Montclair Complex over the next few days and nights.
The impact of the fire on farmer Mullen will be significant. He confirmed that his farm did not have crop insurance. Insurance has been an issue for farmers who cultivate industrial hemp, due to previous federal restrictions.
Blake Butler, executive director of the NC Industrial Hemp Association, said, “I hate to see this happen to anyone.”
Butler is hopeful that the 2018 farm bill’s passage will soon lead to crop insurance becoming available for hemp farmers now that it is officially considered a legal commodity by the federal government. “I just don’t know how long that will take,” Butler added.
Mullen confirmed first responder reports that no one was hurt in the warehouse. He also confirmed that the building is expected to be a total loss. Asked how much of a loss it is, he said, “I don’t know at this point. It’s in the millions.”
In addition to the building’s value, Mullen shared that a grow room was also destroyed in the fire, and it had contained an estimated $500,000 in hemp plants.
Mullen added, “We’re gonna keep scraping by,” and that they won’t let the fire stop them from farming hemp in the future.
When asked what people can do to help, he said, “Pray for me.”
According to North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS), Mullen was growing several strains of hemp — Carolina Girl 2, Cherry, Carolina Girl 3, Baox — on his 160-acre farm in Franklin County, NC. Hemp and kenaf can both be grown for their fiber, dried using special equipment like that Mullen maintains in the undamaged, second building at Montclair. A former tobacco farmer, Mullen’s farm still operates under the name Big M Tobacco LLC. Records show the farm may have grown as many as 5,250 plants in 2018.
The cause of the fire is not known at this point.