August 25, 2019
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‘This is our life and livelihood’: Fire rips through Maine medical marijuana facility

Deb Cram | Portsmouth Herald
Deb Cram | Portsmouth Herald
Firefighters respond to a blaze at the Sweet Dirt marijuana facility on Route 236 in Eliot on Monday night.

ELIOT, Maine — A two-alarm blaze barreled through a medical marijuana grow facility and caregiver business on Route 236 Monday night, as responding fire departments struggled with access and water supply.

The billowing smoke drew crowds near 495 Harold Dow Highway where Sweet Dirt Inc. operates a state-licensed caregiving business “growing small batch, artisan, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association-certified clean cannabis,” according to its website. The business was founded in 2014.

The structure was unoccupied when the fire started, and no one was injured.

Josiah Gould was working in an unassociated car garage onsite when he saw smoke. He made the 911 call around 7:30 p.m., he said, and the scene stayed “pretty mundane for a while,” until flames became visible from the roof after 8 p.m.

More than five fire departments, including Eliot, Kittery, York, South Berwick and Rollinsford, New Hampshire, responded to the scene, which also required the presence of a Seacoast Chief Fire Officers Association breathing air unit, multiple tankers and a portable water supply.

Eliot Fire Chief Jay Muzeroll said there were no fire hydrants in the immediate area, requiring portable tanker shuttles to be set up on the ground. Firefighters also faced accessibility issues, Muzeroll said, because they were dealing with an enclosed structure.

Asked about a potential “contact high” for those in the area, Muzeroll said, “the wind is working in our favor.”

Smoke and flames continued to surge out of the structure more than 90 minutes after the fire began, as firefighters applied water from several different angles. Muzeroll wouldn’t yet deem the building a total loss, but said he expected “substantial damage.”

The fire was originally thought to have started the attic, however, that turned out not to be the case, he said.

Sweet Dirt is owned by husband and wife Hughes and Kristin Pope, who are Eliot residents. Hughes Pope serves on the town’s Adult-Use Retail Cannabis Committee.

Sweet Dirt has more than a dozen employees, has raised several million dollars in capital investment and works with vendors and tradespeople across the Seacoast.

“This is our life and livelihood,” Hughes Pope said as his family watched the business burn. “We’re just getting going.”

 



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