ELIOT, Maine — As Maine lawmakers finalize rules and regulations around recreational marijuana, a fire at a medicinal marijuana facility in Eliot is sparking a conversation around building code changes that need to be made.
When firefighters arrived at Sweet Dirt Monday evening, Eliot's Fire Chief Jay Muzeroll says a cloud of smoke surrounded the top of the building. They quickly found the fire had not started in the lower part of the building but in the attic.
"The building is a complete loss," Muzeroll said.
As first responders worked to put out remaining hot spots Tuesday afternoon, Sweet Dirt employees were busy assessing the damage of their inventory and other products.
"The fact that it was contained in the back and that the greenhouse wasn’t affected -- that’s where we're the luckiest," Sweet Dirt's CEO, Jim Henry, said.
While fighting any fire comes with obstacles, Muzeroll says this situation came with unique challenges. He says many times buildings that act as a grow-house or extraction site for marijuana plants are full of potentially hazardous materials for first responders.
"They are full of high intensity lights, fertilizers, chemicals and everything else that would be within that structure," Muzeroll said. "The grow personnel have to do certain things of the building that supports their growth but sometimes creates a challenge for the firefighters to get to where we need to."
As more marijuana-based businesses are expected to pop up around the state, the fire is sparking a bigger conversation about safety. In fact, it's a conversation being had across the country.
The National Fire Protection Association recently implemented a new chapter of codes specifically for marijuana based businesses to help prevent tragedies like this from happening.
"A lot of these sites are using a lot of electricity, whether it be to power high intensity lighting or HVAC equipment," NFPA's Director of Regional Operations, Ray Bizal, said. "People need to make sure that all their electrical outlets are good and that they are following the code when it comes to using extension cords and things like that."
Many of these new code standards are being adopted by states across the country. Here in Maine, first responders are confident lawmakers will work to upgrade code standards and other safety regulations for these businesses and eventually, new ones will be established.
As for those Sweet Dirt, they say this is a valuable lesson for everyone.
"It’s a terrible thing that it happened, but it is absolutely a blip in our business." Henry said.
The State Fire Marshal's office is currently investigating the cause of the fire.