With cannabis decriminalized or legalized in a majority of US states, the industry surrounding growing, processing, distributing and selling cannabis products is one of the fastest growing in the nation. Worth an estimated $61 billion or more, and expected to grow 21% year over year, cannabis isn’t going anywhere. The states that took a gamble on legalization are seeing big returns, and many of the individuals who entered the arena are cashing in too. But that high-stakes investment might be facing serious risks. Many growers are so blinded by the promise of big harvests and even bigger returns that they forget how easily it can all go up in smoke. At Metl-Span, we want to help you understand these risks.
The Wrong Kind of Blaze
Just a few months ago, crews responded to a three-alarm fire at the Port of Shelton in Washington, where a cannabis growing and processing facility caught fire. The blaze was so large, it required support from six additional county fire districts. Even so, it was a total loss. All the plants, the expensive growing and processing equipment, even the building itself – burned down to a sticky mess.
Legal cannabis growing is a relatively new industry. In some ways, it’s still a something of wild west business, because authorities haven’t yet figured out the most effective ways to regulate the different, complicated and often dangerous aspects of growing, processing and selling cannabis products. Today, we’re going to explore where these hidden dangers might lie, provide ideas on mitigating those risks, and give you a head start on meeting the cannabis industry-specific fire codes that are already in the works.
Processing facilities are at the most risk for fire, because of the inherent risks involved in the LP gas and solvents used in processing buds after harvest. But that doesn’t mean grow rooms are immune to fire. The electrical demands of indoor growing facilities present their own combustion risks. Row upon row of hot lights, often baking for 24 hours a day – plus other electrical demands of growing – can stretch electrical systems to the breaking point. Overloaded circuits and wires carrying all that amperage can spark fires. Lights might also be hung inappropriately, and if they fall, they can also spark fires.
Cannabis requires precise environmental conditions to grow to its fullest potential. That means control of temperature, light, humidity and air circulation. Humidity makes for condensation that can build up unseen and run into electrical connection boxes – a serious fire risk. It also means that when a room gets too hot, ventilation kicks on to cool it down. When plants need cooler air, this is great. But if it was a fire causing that heat, extra ventilation literally fans the flames.
The typical grow facility is a large building subdivided into rooms – either with real walls or temporary barriers such as tarps. These can be frequently rearranged, with plants moving through different areas as they grow and mature, and the different requirements of plants being met by new arrangements of plants and barriers.
This may seem fine, but imagine it in the event of a fire. It’s dark and smoky. Alarms are going off. The tarps or walls are providing more fuel for the fire and you or your workers are in an unfamiliar labyrinth of plants and barriers, trying to get out. It can also be a maze for first responders trying to fight the fire. To further complicate matters, protective growers often use noncompliant doors or locking mechanisms. These efforts at keeping criminals from getting in can be deadly when people are desperate to get out.
An understanding of these risks leads to some simple ideas for improving your facility’s fire safety:
- Trust a licensed electrician to design lighting electrical systems which can handle your needs, and then keep operations within those parameters.
- Monitor humidity and use drip loops on all electrical outlets.
- Keep grow spaces neat and tidy, with clear egress routes.
- Ensure smoke and fire alarms are audible from everywhere in your facility, even with doors closed.
- Ensure a fire failsafe is installed on any automatic ventilation systems.
These can all help prevent a fire or get your people out safely in the event of a fire, but if you’re interested in measures that might actually save your crops and investment from total loss, you need to know about Metl-Span’s ThermalSafe® Fire Resistant Panels.
Fighting the Fire
ThermalSafe® panels are similar to Metl-Span’s line of insulated metal panels (IMPs) in that they are an all-in-one insulation, water, air and vapor barrier for exterior cladding or internal walls. They’re installed in a single step. But ThermalSafe® has a crucial difference. Instead of a foam core, it features a non-combustible structural mineral wool core. This will not burn or add any fuel to a fire. It also maximizes compressive strength with LockGuard, an exclusive double tongue-and-groove interlocking side joint, which further enhances its fire-resistant performance.
In May of 2021, the NFPA announced its Standards Council approved the development of NFPA 420, the Standard on Fire Protection of Cannabis Growing and Processing Facilities. This will provide clear guidance on fire protection standards for facilities that produce, process and extract cannabis. For a preview of what might come to light in these new codes, check out the NFPA’s Safety Issues for Cannabis-Related Facilities pamphlet.
However, we understand you need to protect your investment now, and ThermalSafe® Panels are already UL fire-rated assemblies that achieve one-, two- and three-hour fire ratings for walls and 1.5 hours for ceilings. Still, ThermalSafe® panels aren’t just a fire protection measure. They also provide superior structural characteristics and span capabilities, better sound absorption and are even reusable should you decide to move or redesign.
To learn more about keeping your cannabis grow operation safe from the wrong kind of fire, get in touch with a Metl-Span representative in your area.
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