cannabis factory firefighters
A fire engine. Photo: Dave Conner

A fire engine. Photo: Dave Conner

West Midlands Fire Service recently disclosed that 21 of the 60 fires to which its people were called were in cannabis factories and were ?incredibly dangerous.? This was mere days after firefighters combated a large house fire at a cannabis factory in Wolverhampton. At another blaze within the last week, a whole 15 cannabis plants were discovered in a bedroom above a signage shop on High Street, Walsall Wood, after a ?severe? fire there that was attended by three firecrews. Jamie McMahon, 42, owner of the shop, bewailed that he would have to spend thousands of pounds on repairs.

More SORDID TALES from the West Midlands

In February 2016, 263 cannabis plants were found by firefighters fighting a blaze on the ground floor of a two-storey house on Victoria Avenue in Walsall, leading to the closure of the nearby high street for five hours, from 0400 to 0900; the fire is believed to have been caused by low quality growing equipment.

In April 2016, two pensioners fled for their lives from their home of nearly 50 years in Land Lane, Sheldon, in Birmingham, at 01:00 one morning. Their loft held artefacts dating to when their three sons were young, prompting them to fret, but these were saved. West Midlands Police attributed the fire to the growing of cannabis.

West Midlands Fire Service sums up

Police in the West Midlands raid a cannabis factory every three days on average. The Fire Service’s spokesman, Neil Spencer, remarked, ?Someone?s potential high is definitely our low.? This is because a cannabis factory usually features a bypassed power supply, unsafe structural alterations and much growing equipment that consumes ?loads of electricity.? Spencer described cannabis factory fires as ?a big problem for our firefighters.? He spoke of ?potential boobytraps,? but boobytraps laid by criminals can be all too intentional, as was the case on March 29 2016 in Bushbury, where one caused an explosion.

Elsewhere in Britain

This is a countrywide problem. In March 2016, firefighters were called to a house fire on Melbourne Place, Little Horton, near the centre of Bradford, west Yorkshire, at about 12:30 one day. The floor of the attic collapsed. Signs of cannabis cultivation were found. The cause was labelled ?electrical.?

It was in July that overheating growing lamps started a fire on Seymour Road, Trowbridge, in Wiltshire, with fire personnel turning up at 07:30. Fire station manager Damien Bence remarked that had the occupant been in, he would now be well and truly out, ie dead, leaving 30 cannabis plants behind. Bence detailed the kind of boobytraps sometimes encountered in cannabis factories: spikes in the windows and wiring of door handles to the electricity supply. In this case, the electrical meter had been bypassed.

In August, a flat fire in the attic of a property at Lon y Castell in Ely, Cardiff, started because the electrical meter had been bypassed. Over 100 plants were found. A 35-year-old woman and 24-year-old man were arrested.

In September, Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service took 30 minutes to extinguish a fire at Chapel Lane, Harriseahead, where there were six cannabis plants ? that’s a cannabis factory, that is ? and two lamps. 45-year-old resident Karl Longthorpe was aghast: “Normally this is such a quiet area where nothing much like this happens. A fire by itself is quite shocking, but for cannabis plants to be found there is even worse. ”

In September, the presence of West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service was requested at a fire in Rogate at around 19:30 one Wednesday. The occupant had put it out, but a firefighter happened upon cannabis plants in one bedroom, so police were called and arrested 36-year-old musician Dominic Shaw.

On another day in September, 999 was dialled so three fire engines went to a house fire on Dee Street in west Hull, east Yorkshire, around midday. While there were no people within, there were 66 cannabis plants, in a setup termed ?complex? by one firefighter. The cause is thought to have been overloading of the electricity supply.

In December, Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue took a call at around 04:00 reporting a fire in a one-time restaurant on Norwood Road. Firefighters came upon about 190 cannabis plants. The fire was started by an electricity meter which had doubtless been fiddled with.

The prize for the largest cannabis factory fire was secured in December when one at an industrial unit on Lorn Street, Birkenhead, Merseyside, went up in flames in the small hours one morning. There were 833 cannabis plants, yielding an estimated ?3.3 million a year. Yet again, electricity was behind it.

In Chatham High Street in Kent in January of this year, ?evidence of cannabis cultivation? was encountered by firefighters tackling a conflagration which led to the temporary closure of the Akash Tandoori Indian restaurant and the cessation of power to local businesses, with several power cuts throughout the following week.

Again in January, 10 fire engines with over 70 firefighters were summoned to a blaze at Ardleigh Green Road, Hornchurch, East London, at 17:14. It is believed there was a cannabis factory inside. An explosion shook buildings. 41 homes were evacuated. Two men were arrested on suspicion of arson, and both were taken to hospital for injuries. Two others were also carted off, while a third individual went on their own.

Witness Jason Smedley, 46, posted to Facebook, “Carnage!! Never witnessed anything like that before … massive explosion … Stomach churning!!” ?Carnage? was overdoing it somewhat, but he mentioned ?people screaming and crying everywhere.” The horror didn’t end there: 31 year-old Warren Woodroof, who lives in the flats, was forced to leave his property with no socks on. (?It was freezing cold.?) One eyewitness told of two gas canisters catching fire. Roads were closed. The episode was sufficiently interesting to be reported on by the Sun, Daily Mirror, and Daily Hate; it was even covered by a Strilyan news outlet.

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