Basement fire destroys most of Miel’s products
Mark Walters has been beekeeping since 1976.
“I’ve always been interested in insects. I grew up on the island of Madagascar, and I had an insect collection growing up,” said Walters. “Then, when I went to college, I ran into a fellow whose dad was a commercial beekeeper.”
Mark’s passion for beekeeping quickly grew, eventually becoming a family business. Miel started in 2010 primarily selling honey.
“My brother was a boxer for a number of years and he had a lot of honey and his list of grocery receipts and stuff. He was like, ‘Hey, Dad, we should do honey again so I can get free honey’,” explained Mark’s daughter, Vanessa Roers. “Then it kind of just morphed slowly into the beeswax side because my mom wasn’t able to hang out with the bees because she was allergic. So she was like, ‘Well, what can I do?’ So we get a lot of beeswax. So it’s her with lip balms and lotions and soap, and it just kind of gradually morphed into this awesome little business we got going on here.”
Mark’s basement of his home in Duluth was the main hub for Miel. Vanessa is the business owner and helps with a variety of business aspects, from accounting and bookkeeping to managing retailers, running the business’s social media, and making soap.
“We make everything out of the basement. We kept all of our products down there and then whenever we had online orders come in, they would get filled and boxed up. Everything would get checked off down there,” said Vanessa.
On Saturday, August 5, Mark was woken up by his cat, Piso, in the middle of the night in what has become a regular occurrence.
“He’ll come in and then he’ll be inside for about an hour or so. And then he comes to my bedroom door. ‘Scratch, scratch, scratch. I want to go out.’ So every time I get an interruption in sleep, I say, ‘Dumb cat, dumb cat, this dumb cat that’,” said Walters. “About 2:00, we went through this routine to let the cat in and about 3:00 let the cat out that I’m lying there trying to go, trying to go to sleep. Oftentimes in the middle of night, it takes me a while to go back to sleep, and I hear this very faint ‘beep, beep, beep’. We have a ceiling fan going. I thought, okay, maybe there’s something with that or maybe with my bedroom window. Maybe I’m hearing something around town. I did not associate ‘beep, beep, beep’ with what would I ran into eventually.”
Hearing a strange noise that sounded like something moving, Mark opened his bedroom door and found smoke everywhere.
“My thought was, ‘You idiot! And what did you leave on the stove or in the oven?’ No, it smoked up the whole house. So recently the kitchen. And there was nothing in the stove, nothing in the oven, but yet the kitchen was full of smoke. So I opened the kitchen window and then it went out on the back deck, called 911,” Mark recalled.
Mark and Piso the cat were both safe from the fire. Piso, who happens to be the Miel mascot, is given credit by the family for saving Mark’s life.
“The cat just woke him up that night. And then he just wanted to do is go out. But everybody thinks he’s the hero,” said Mark’s granddaughter Evie, 12.
The fire was contained to the basement and quickly put out. Mark is staying at Vanessa’s home currently due to smoke damage in portions of his house.
“That one room was the only room that had any actual flames. So that’s definitely wonderful,” said Vanessa.” But then the smoke damage in the basement and then it came up the stairs and just the heat from the flames just scorched the stairwell on the way up.”
Everything that was in the basement was destroyed, including a stove and other equipment used to make the beeswax products.
“I couldn’t even recognize it when I first saw it. Everything was gone, melted, charred, like I have no words,” said Mark’s grandson Axel, 10.
A few small piles of products were untouched. With most of their products destroyed, Miel is currently only selling products at the local farmer’s market rather than on their website.
A Miel employee, Lexi, started a GoFundMe on behalf of the family. The $10,000 goal was met in just three days.
“We have to buy new equipment to make stuff,” said Mark. “I know there’s a lot of work to put it all back together, but the tone, I mean, Duluth is the city, but it acts like a small town. We’re just getting a lot of support from friends and family and a lot of a lot of customers through the farmers market, you know, get a hold of us. The support is shown in so many different ways.”
Vanessa said that baby steps will be taken to get Miel up and running again. The family would like to thank the community for their support.
“It was nothing short of just God saying, ‘Hey, this happened. Let’s just- I’m going to help you fix it.’ But the amount of support from our town and our community of just people who support our business and know who we are has been astounding, really,” said Vanessa. “But it’s going to it’s a long road. I have to remind myself, you know, Rome was not built in a day, so Miel will not be rebuilt in a day. We’ve got a plan in place to start with lip balms and then add up our lotion and then soap. And then I guess we’ll kind of see from there.”
The GoFundMe can be found at this link.