Up in smoke: Fire destroys Centennial area home, housing pot farm

In addition to growing 215 marijuana plants, officials say someone was stealing electricity to run the grow operation …

As firefighters clean up after putting out the blaze, police investigators move in to investigate this home they call a “pot factory”.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The ranch-styled home, located in the southern Centennial Neighborhood at 3432 Southeast 156th Ave., looked like a typical, middle-class dwelling.

“No I didn’t suspect anything,” said across-the-street neighbor Ron Taylor. “Normally you’d like having quiet neighbors. It didn’t seem lived-in. We thought it might be an ‘investment’ home.”

Neighbor Ron Taylor said he didn’t suspect anything going on in the burned home, seen behind him.

Taylor said people would come and go once or twice a week. They’d take care of the front yard, come in and out the front door.

“Other than that, nothing seemed unusual,” Taylor told us, “until last night. My wife and I smelled some smoke. We attributed it to the Mt. Hood fires. It smelled like ‘old’ smoke.”

Pot farm afire
Fire officials suspect what Taylor and his neighbors smelled was overheating wiring or transformers in the structure. “But, we can’t be sure until the fire investigators have completed their work,” Lt. Allen Oswalt told us on-scene.

“When we got here, it was all fire and smoke,” Oswalt recounted. “We attacked the fire by going inside. In the dark and smoke, firefighters saw the pot growing operation, and became suspicious of booby traps. They pulled out.”

While the he Portland Police Explosive Unit was in route, firefighters continued to knock down the fire from the outside. No booby traps were located.

Lt. Allen Oswalt looks at some of the extensive damage at the rear of the home.

“It took only 10 minutes to actually put out the fire,” Oswalt continued. “The fire had a significant pre-burn time. There is deep charring through support beams in the attic. There isn’t much wood left in several of the support beams; the roof is sagging.”

Two rear bedrooms and the garage were dedicated to the marijuana-growing operation, according to Oswalt. “The way the bedrooms were set up ‚Äì there are no beds ‚Äì it makes it unlikely people were living here. There was some living room furniture and a TV.”

An fire investigator makes his way into the garage, filled with what police say are pot plants, lights, and a tangle of electrical cords.

Stealing juice
Firefighters noted the “creative electrical wiring ‚Äì large power cords that snaked through the home from the garage. When a crew from Portland General Electric was called in to shut off the power, they noticed thick electrical cables going out a side door, and into the ground.

Here’s some of the “creative wiring” uncovered by PGE workers. Someone tapped the home’s main power supply before it got to the meter.

“Theft of service is a crime,” Portland Police’s Sgt. Brian Schmutz told us. “Depending on the dollar value of the power taken, it could be prosecuted as a Class B Felony.”

Here are some of the more than 200 pot plants which fire and police officials found growing in this suburban home.

The final plant count for marijuana growing operation was 215 plants, according to police officials.  Investigators have no suspects in custody, and are not releasing suspect information.

¬© 2006 David F. Ashton ~ East PDX News

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