Woodstock house fire reveals pot-growing operation

Firefighters said the blaze started in the circuit breaker box. But what the fire investigator found on-site landed two of the home’s occupants in real hot water …

SE Woodstock Blvd. was blocked off for several hours, as firefighters put out a small house fire they say resulted from an electrical overload, and then police investigated a marijuana grow operation found in the basement.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
By all measures, the house fire at 6830 S.E. Woodstock Boulevard wasn’t much of a blaze.

Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) Station 25 Truck and Engine Company, based on S.E. 52nd, arrived with sirens wailing at 9:23 a.m. on January 16.

A half hour after the blaze was quenched, smoke is still coming from the house.

“We were originally were sent on the report of a power line down,” PF&R Battalion Chief 4 Scott Beyers said, while firefighters, their work quickly done, were wrapping up their hoses.

“A short time after our arrival, it was determined that we had a fire involving the house down in the basement area,” Beyers continued.

The battalion chief said firefighters reported that fire was in the area where the electrical service went into the house. “It appears that’s where it started, but investigators are in there now taking a look. Both of the home’s occupants are out, and there were no injuries.”

Firefighters pack up their gear after extinguishing the small fire.

While firefighters tote their gear out of the the house, a police officer talks this person, who appears to be the woman officials later identified as Tabitha French.

Electrical overload leads to investigation
As the firefighters were stowing their gear, we noticed a Portland Police Bureau officer talking with an individual said to be an occupant of the house. When we drove by later that afternoon, officers from the bureau’s Drug & Vice Division were also visiting the modest Woodstock neighborhood home.

The official PF&R report made law enforcement’s interest clear: “Found … a fire in the basement of the house. A grow operation was found in the basement.”

The report continued, “A Marijuana grow operation was being conducted in two rooms. A third room was in the process of having grow lights and ventilation system wired in. Fire patterns and damage seen indicated the fire originated at the main breaker branch panel. Overload and arcing noted.”

Police say these two women, Tabitha Rose French (left) and Rachael Marie Belknap (right) face charges stemming from the marijuana grow operation found in the house.

Two charged in pot growing operation
Although investigators estimate the building and content loss were only about $25,000, the impact of the fire on two of the home’s occupants may be more far-reaching.

Portland Police Bureau spokesman Sgt. Brian Schmautz checked the records, and told us that two 27-year-old women, Tabitha Rose French and Rachael Marie Belknap, were taken into custody. “They are both charged with Manufacturing, Possession and Distribution of Marijuana.”

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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