Local News

Barn Fires Increasingly A Problem For N.C. Tobacco Farmers

Posted August 15, 2001

— A new law designed to make tobacco safer is firing up farmers. The problem is with a heater that takes a cancer-causing agent out of the leaf. Those heaters have sparked fires at several barns.

At Jimmy Lee's farm in Johnston County, the fire hit quickly. He had checked the barn only 15 minutes earlier.

"All the farmers out here are already hurting financially, and then you lose a barn like this. I had 40-some hundred dollars worth of tobacco in it, plus the barn, plus the heat exchanger," Lee said.

Like dozens of other North Carolina barns this summer, Lee's burned because of the heat exchange unit. The units are required by cigarette companies, but appear to burn too hot for older wood-frame barns.

Lee organized a farm rally at the State Capitol two years ago, and says that growers will have to unite again somehow to protect their crops and their livelihood.

"The farmers are ready to move with some kind of recourse. We didn't do this by choice. It was forced upon us," said Lee.

The cigarette companies require the units because they cut down on one cancer-causing agent. The federal government will require them next year.

"I've lost a barn and the tobacco. We can't keep standing these losses out here," said Lee.

A spokesperson at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco said they have not had one of their farmers have a barn fire, but they are sending out guidelines and suggestions to try to avoid them.

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