Farm Warehouse and Contents A Total Loss in Bunn, NC Fire

Bunn Rural Fire Dept. truck and personnel overseeing the fire. Photo: Kay Whatley
Bunn Rural Fire Dept. truck and personnel overseeing the fire. Photo: Kay Whatley

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.

 

View from Sledge Road up NC-98 toward the Montclair Complex. Closed by Franklin County Sheriff's Office for public safety. Photo: Kay Whatley
View from Sledge Road up NC-98 toward the Montclair Complex. Closed by Franklin County Sheriff’s Office for public safety. Photo: Kay Whatley

 

View from Vollmer Farm of the Montclair Complex fire. Photo: Kay Whatley
View from Vollmer Farm of the Montclair Complex fire. Photo: Kay Whatley

 

Large warehouse on fire, hemp storage building in front was protected by fire departments and seemed undamaged. Photo: Kay Whatley
Large warehouse on fire, hemp storage building in front was protected by fire departments and seemed undamaged. Photo: Kay Whatley

 

 

Fire departments, the Franklin County Sheriff's Office, and Franklin County Emergency Management on-scene at the Montclair Complex fire January 11, 2019. Photo: Kay Whatley
Fire departments, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, and Franklin County Emergency Management on-scene at the Montclair Complex fire January 11, 2019. Photo: Kay Whatley

 

Smoke rising from the far warehouse at Montclair Complex, Bunn, NC. Photo: Kay Whatley
Smoke rising from the far warehouse at Montclair Complex, Bunn, NC. Photo: Kay Whatley

 

Fire crews at Montclair Complex, noon on January 11, 2019. Photo: Kay Whatley
Fire crews at Montclair Complex, noon on January 11, 2019. Photo: Kay Whatley

 

Several of the responding fire departments at the fire scene. Photo: Kay Whatley
Several of the responding fire departments at the fire scene. Photo: Kay Whatley

 

Untouched hemp warehouse at left, larger kenaf warehouse on right is still burning. Photo: Kay Whatley
Untouched hemp warehouse at left, larger kenaf warehouse on right is still burning. Photo: Kay Whatley

 

View between warehouses, with fire continuing inside the right-side building. Photo: Kay Whatley
View between warehouses, with fire continuing inside the right-side building. Photo: Kay Whatley

 

Another fire department vehicle arriving. Photo: Kay Whatley
Another fire department vehicle arriving. Photo: Kay Whatley

 

Steve Rhode, Wake Forest Fire Department, pilots his drone over the burning warehouse, gathering photos, video, and thermal images. Photo: Kay Whatley
Steve Rhode, Wake Forest Fire Department, pilots his drone over the burning warehouse, gathering photos, video, and thermal images. Photo: Kay Whatley

 

A FCSO Deputy looks on as Chief Pilot Steve Rhode, Wake Forest Fire Department, flies a drone over the fire. Photo: Kay Whatley
A FCSO Deputy looks on as Chief Pilot Steve Rhode, Wake Forest Fire Department, flies a drone over the fire. Photo: Kay Whatley

 

Multiple fire departments responded to the Bunn, NC warehouse fire the morning of January 11, 2019. Photo: Kay Whatley
Multiple fire departments responded to the Bunn, NC warehouse fire the morning of January 11, 2019. Photo: Kay Whatley

 

Montclair Complex entranced lined with emergency vehicles. Photo: Kay Whatley
Montclair Complex entranced lined with emergency vehicles. Photo: Kay Whatley

 

Smoke rising from the rear of the burning warehouse. Photo: Kay Whatley
Smoke rising from the rear of the burning warehouse. Photo: Kay Whatley

 

Front of the warehouse with smoke rising. Photo: Kay Whatley
Front of the warehouse with smoke rising. Photo: Kay Whatley

 

A warehouse worker and fire personnel watch as the fire continues burning. Decision was made to let the fire burn out. FD will oversee in coming days. Photo: Kay Whatley
A warehouse worker and fire personnel watch as the fire continues burning. Decision was made to let the fire burn out. FD will oversee in coming days. Photo: Kay Whatley

 

View between the buildings, fire in right-hand building, around 1:30pm on January 11, 2019. Photo: Kay Whatley
View between the buildings, fire in right-hand building, around 1:30pm on January 11, 2019. Photo: Kay Whatley

 

Fire trucks set up in the field across from Montclair Complex. Until harvest earlier this Fall, hemp grew here. Photo: Kay Whatley
Fire trucks set up in the field across from Montclair Complex. Until harvest earlier this Fall, hemp grew here. Photo: Kay Whatley

 

Fire crew dousing the burning warehouse. Photo: Kay Whatley
Fire crew dousing the burning warehouse. Photo: Kay Whatley

 

Bunn Rural Fire Dept. truck and personnel overseeing the fire. Photo: Kay Whatley
Bunn Rural Fire Dept. truck and personnel overseeing the fire. Photo: Kay Whatley

 

Bunn Rural Fire Dept. personnel putting away equipment, 2pm on January 11, 2019. Photo: Kay Whatley
Bunn Rural Fire Dept. personnel putting away equipment, 2pm on January 11, 2019. Photo: Kay Whatley

 

Portion of the warehouse collapsing during the fire on January 11, 2019. Photo: Kay Whatley
Portion of the warehouse collapsing during the fire on January 11, 2019. Photo: Kay Whatley

 

Ed. Note: Thank you to reporter news site CarolinaCannabisNews.com for working with us on this article. Follow them on Twitter for ongoing NC hemp news.

About Kay Whatley 2030 Articles
Kay Whatley serves as Editor and Reporter with The Grey Area News. Kay is a published author with over 20 years of experience in the publishing industry. Kay Whatley is wife to Frank Whatley, founder of The Grey Area™ newspaper and The Grey Area News online news website.