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Barn Fires Major Problem For Tobacco Farmers

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HARNETT COUNTY — Tobacco barns mean money in the bank for farmers, and they help contribute to prosperity in the eastern part of the state. The buildings cure the leaf before it sells. But since the harvest started recently, dozens of barns have gone up in smoke in several counties.

One of Charles Tart's Harnett County barns burned down earlier this week.

"Just a rough ball park, between the barn, the tobacco and everything, I lost at least $20,000," he said.

"With the rain we've had lately, tobacco is more than likely going to start falling off. Now we're one barn short and we've got another one here that we're not planning on using this year," said Tart.

Tobacco barns use low heat to cure the leaf for sale. For one to have burned before this year was rare. But now, they are catching fire, somewhere in our state, almost every day.

Growers say the difference is an industry-mandated heat exchange system that cuts down on carcinogens. This is the first year everyone has used heat exchangers, and it is the first year fire has been a problem.

In Johnston County, Jimmy Lee is delaying his harvest. Lee says farmers were rushed into installing the devices without proper testing.

"Probably there was a lot of people putting the heat exchangers in who were not competent. There weren't enough qualified peple to do it and farmers feel like we have been led astray," said Lee.

On top of all that, Lee says his insurance company will not add new coverage for the barns This is a debate that is just beginning, and as the barns burn up, expect tempers to flare.

The Johnston County fire marshall is encouraging all farmers to have their barns inspected again.