Fire officials point to recent fires at medical marijuana cultivation sites as proof of increasing dangers at such facilities, which harness loads of energy to power the fans, lights and filters needed to produce high volumes of cannabis. But are these grows really the electrical-blaze equivalent of ticking time bombs, or are the dangers being overblown?
In response to the fires, CBS4 ran a series of stories, like this one, that made grow houses sound like deadly jungles full of booby traps. Reporter Rick Sallinger leads into the package on view below by describing how much power is required by a warehouse-sized grow, then uses an incendiary quote from Denver Fire Department spokesman Lt. Phil Champagne.
"It's so smoky you can't see your hand in front of your face. Our firefighters go in there; that mesh presents an entanglement hazard. We can get a firefighter entangled, you can end up with a fatality."
Now, I don't want anyone to think I'm disrespecting firefighters, whose jobs require selflessness and can be highly dangerous. But Sallinger's reporting about two fires over the weekend didn't share some key details. Not only weren't they caused by overloading the power grid, but by the time DFD crews arrived, they weren't fires at all.
The first fire was at River Rock Wellness on York Street in North Denver. The shop released a written statement that blames a faulty electrical breaker for the incident, and notes that the fire was "immediately dealt with" by staff. One source tells us the flames were pretty much confined to a breaker panel and had already been extinguished by the arrival of fire department personnel, who were called strictly as a safety measure.
The release also points out that the Denver Building Department and the Denver Fire Department approved the grow facility as recently as last month. A representative later told Westword that the grow isn't even operating at half the electrical capacity for which they've been approved.
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A similar situation happened on Sunday night at an unrelated grow facility on Brighton Boulevard. Denver firefighters were called out, and news cameras from CBS4 caught the ensuing rush on camera from the street.
Although the flashing lights from the trucks and dozen or so firemen milling around the scene made it look like a four-alarm grow-house fire, a source associated with the grow says it was actually a very minor incident.
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The source, who asked not to be named, says the fire could have happened to anyone, and that it had nothing to do with overloading circuits with thousands of watts of energy for lights. A standard power strip like the kind you can purchase at a hardware store shorted out, increasing the electrical output to an oscillating fan to the point where the cable ignited and set the fan on fire.
The fire caused minor charring to a modest section of a single wall, as well as burning a few plants in the early stages of vegetation. before being put out by grow room staffers who saw the blaze early on. To be safe, he says the staff decided to call the fire department to make sure the fire had been completely put out. However, since grow was operating on temporary papers at the time of the fire, city officials have shut it down until the proper permits are attained.
Still, there was no blinding smoke and no risk of firefighters becoming entangled in mesh. But that's not made clear in the CBS4 report. Watch it here.