Up in Smoke: House Fire Reveals Huge Marijuana Operation

marijuana growers reche canyon
marijuana growers reche canyon

In a scene straight out of the stoner flick "Pineapple Express," firefighters in California's Riverside County discovered a massive pot-grow operation in a burning, vacant home on Friday.

Located in the unincorporated area of Reche Canyon, the large rural home lit up soon after midnight and took firefighters three hours to extinguish, ABC News-Los Angeles reports. No one was found in the home and no injuries were reported.

When the blaze finally was out, authorities entered the 4,000-square-foot home to discover that nearly three-quarters of the first floor was being used to grow the illicit plant. Most of the marijuana was destroyed by the flames.

Police are still investigating the cause of the fire, but said that squatters may have had something to do with it, especially since the house has long sat vacant.

The incident is the latest in what some experts call a budding trend: The vast inventory of foreclosures and otherwise vacant homes in states hit hard by the housing crisis are proving fertile ground for marijuana grow operations.

Think we're blowing smoke? In Nevada, which suffered greatly from a run-up in speculative buying during the housing bubble, the discovery of pot-grow homes has risen dramatically. In 2005, when prices were still on a meteoric rise, there were 18 reported pot sites and 1,000 confiscated plants in the state, the Los Angeles Times reported. In 2010, there were 153 recorded grow operations and 13,000 plants found.

With an enormous surge in foreclosures in states like Nevada, Florida and Arizona, vacant homes and urban blight are not far behind. When bank-owned homes fail to sell at foreclosure, vandals and squatters can run amok. As these foreclosures languish on the market, neighboring homes suffer from property value declines, exacerbating sellers' problems in an already stagnant market.

As a proposed stopgap, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke uncharacteristically weighed in on the issue of vacant homes this week by suggestion that more foreclosures be converted into rental properties. That way, the thinking goes, at least lenders recoup some of their losses and prevent further damage to the properties by vandals and -- possibly -- illicit-drug farmers.