An early morning fire destroyed a two-story shed that was housing industrial-grade hemp on Tuesday in Eden Township.
The fire started just before 6:30 a.m., destroying the shed that was converted into a hemp dryer. But fire crews had the fire under control within 30 minutes, according to Lancaster County-Wide Communications.
The shed had about 80 stalks of leaves and bud drying in it, according to Alvin Esh, one of three brothers that grow hemp on the family farm.
Esh, 27, estimated that $5,000 to $6,000 worth of crop was destroyed, but added that it was a "very small portion of our crop that burnt."
The building itself was simple and had been on the land for about six or seven years, Esh estimated.
The drying setup used plywood boards for sides and propane and a blower.
It's much different than the drying process the Esh family has used for decades when drying their tobacco.
Jake Sitler, director of business for the CBD company Floyd’s of Leadville, previously told LNP | LancasterOnline that many local farmers have experience with hanging tobacco in barns to dry, but hemp is very different.
While tobacco’s big, open leaf can handle the humidity fluctuations, hemp grown for CBD is “a small compact flower that is wet on the inside too,” harder to dry and more susceptible to mold, Sitler added.
Crop insurance was not available to hemp farmers for the 2019 crop.
This is the first time a local hemp farmer's crop went up in flames, according to local experts. And Esh said his family will use this as a lesson.
"We have been worried about hemp fires going into this harvest season since the material has a tendency to heat, just like hay," said Alyssa A. Collins, the director of Penn State University Extension's research center in Rapho Township. "We've been warning folks to be cautious about managing the storage of all forms."
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It was also the first time Quarryville firefighters had to deal with a fire involving this kind of crop.
"It's similar to tobacco," said Ron Swayne, a firefighter with Quarryville. "It burns the same [as tobacco], it just smells different."
Alvin and his two brothers farm about five acres of hemp and recently just finished their first harvest. He said they have a buyer but was unsure if the crop is a complete loss or not.
The hemp would be used to extract CBD oil, Esh added.
Lancaster County leads the state in growing hemp by a large margin, with 180 authorized locations. Second in the state is Chester County, with 60.
Staff writer Heather Stauffer contributed to this article.