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Murray Farm Greenhouse owner keeps a cool head after fire destroys building

  • A Concord firefighter surveys the wreckage of a building at Murray Farm Greenhouse of Wednesday morning. A building on the farm burned to the ground after an early-morning blaze. Multiple surrounding towns responded to the scene. Caitlin Andrews / Monitor staff

  • A row of greenhouses that were scorched by an early-morning fire at Murray Farm Greenhouse is shown on Wednesday morning on April 10, 2019. A building on the farm burned to the ground, and multiple surrounding towns responded to the scene. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor photo

  • Concord firefighters spray water onto the remnants of a building at Murray Farm Greenhouse on Wednesday morning. Caitlin Andrews photos / Monitor photo

  • Plants are seen at Murray Farm Greenhouse on Wednesday.

  • A row of plants affected by smoke and heat from a Wednesday morning fire at Murray Farm Greenhouse are shown on April 10, 2019. A building on the farm burned to the ground early in the morning, but the greenhouses only sustained damage in the front. Most of the plants the farm is planning to sell were not harmed by the fire. In the background, David Murray (right) gives directions to workers. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor photo

  • The metal roof of a building that burned to the ground at Murray Farm Greenhouse on Wednesday morning is shown on April 10, 2019. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor photo

  • The melted plastic of a greenhouse at Murray Farm Greenhouse is shown on Wednesday morning on April 10, 2019. A building on the farm burned to the ground early in the morning. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor photo

  • David Murray of Murray Farm Greenhouse looks out at his damaged greenhouses while talking on the phone Wednesday, April 10, 2019. A building on the farm burned to the ground early in the morning, but the greenhouses only sustained damage in the front. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor photo

  • A building at Murray Farm Greenhouse burned to the ground after an early-morning blaze on Wednesday, April 10, 2019. Concord Fire Department

  • A building containing the power supply and offices for Murray Farm Greenhouse in Concord burned to the ground Wednesday morning.

Monitor staff
Published: 4/10/2019 8:46:00 AM

After an early-morning fire destroyed the main building at Murray Farm and threatened his greenhouses, David Murray knew there was no time to panic.

He couldn’t afford to – the building housing the business’s water pumps, boilers and generators was nothing more than a twisted hunk of metal roofing and a pile of debris by mid-Wednesday morning. The fire had also damaged adjacent greenhouses that included part of Murray’s spring crop.

If those greenhouses weren’t capped, and heat, water and electricity weren’t restored, the April chill would kill the plants by nightfall.

“A long time ago, right out of high school, I was an aide in an ER,” Murray said, taking a moment to charge his phone in his home. “So when an emergency happens, the best thing you gotta do is maintain a cool head. The minute people become emotionally charged and start making the wrong, fast decisions, it cannot be good.”

All of Concord’s fire personnel, including several off-duty members, responded to the scene at 115 River Road about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, after a neighbor across the Contoocook River spotted the fire and called 911.

They arrived to see one building heavily consumed by fire, with the blaze encroaching on other structures. Although the Contoocook River is across the street, the steepness of the banks made accessing the water difficult, said Concord fire Deputy Chief Aaron McIntire. A portable tank operation helped to supply the large amounts of water needed to bring the fire under control.

“Our main priority is to get (the business) back up and running,” McIntire said.

The blaze was considered under control by about 6 a.m., although Concord fire personnel would be at the scene throughout the day attempting to determine the cause and removing debris. During the course of the incident, a firefighter from a mutual aid department experienced a non-life-threatening medical emergency at the scene and was transported to Concord Hospital for evaluation, according to a Concord fire news release.

Almost two dozen mutual aid companies from the surrounding area responded to the incident, according to Concord fire. River Road was closed for most of Wednesday morning while fire personnel were on scene.

In the end, the greenhouses closest to the building were partially melted by the heat and smoke, and the shingles of one of the property’s houses were melted. Two trailers and another, smaller building were also destroyed.

The damage to the plants was much subtler. The heat and smoke extended only about 15 feet past the front of the greenhouses, leaving curled and blanched plants in their wake. Beyond them, rows of budding perennials sat undisturbed.

Not long after the fire was out, Murray was in the thick of the action raking up debris and giving orders to troops of friends and family who rushed to the farm where his family had worked for several decades.

When two people knocked on his door looking to help, Murray spoke with pure New England frankness: he needed strapping, battery-powered grills and self-drilling, self-tapping hex-head screws, ¾ of an inch, that would drive into the greenhouses’ steel frames and help secure the covering.

“The reality of farming is very simple: You’ve got to understand management, chemistry, engineering, logistics, plumbing, electrical, watering, entomology,” he said. “... The reality is, you’ve got to flip hats really, really fast.”

It’s easy for Murray to know what the farm needs. He lives in the house where his father was born more than 100 years ago, when the farm still raised chickens. Before that, the 80-acre parcel of land was a dairy farm, switching from livestock to plants in 1964.

The farm is much older than his family – city records indicate some buildings date to 1789. The building that burned used to be a hatchery, Murray said, and dates to the 1940s.

But it’s clear the Murrays are entrenched in the land. David’s nephew, Scott, co-owns the greenhouse business with David Murray, and the land is in a family trust. Much of the family still lives in Concord; Murray’s son lives in the shingle-scorched house.

Amanda Murray, David Murray’s daughter, stopped by with her three children in tow. “It’s really kind of sad,” she said, looking at the greenhouses on the land where she grew up. “This farm is really all that’s left of my grandma.”

When he wasn’t directing workers and surveying the damage, David Murray was fielding phone calls and text messages from worried friends and local businesses, asking him what kind of help he needed – and if Dickie, the greenhouse cat, was okay. (He is.)

“I’m okay. It’s been a tough day, a real tough day,” Murray said, leaning against a hallway beam in his home. “You still have to look at it as, nobody died, nobody got seriously hurt.

“I don’t want to say the word just without intent, but it was just a building,” he said.

If all goes well, Murray said the greenhouses will still hit their end of April target opening date – a little singed, but still standing.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)

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