Marijuana grow suspected in Monday structure fire
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – An overloaded electrical outlet in a medical marijuana grow likely sparked a fire at a Wildwood Avenue home on Monday afternoon, causing about $30,000 in damage, city officials said Tuesday.
Two engines from South Lake Tahoe Fire Department and one engine from Lake Valley Fire Protection District responded to a report of the fire at 1331 Wildwood Ave. about 3:45 p.m.
On arrival, firefighters discovered a two story, single family residence with a fire that had started on the front exterior of the residence that had extended into the attic area of the residence, according to a Tuesday statement.
Most of the exterior fire had been knocked down by the occupants with a garden hose, according to the statement.
“Firefighters quickly discovered the fire in the attic and extinguished it, preventing further extension,” said Division Chief Brad Piazzo, according to the statement.
No injuries were reported as a result of the fire.
An unknown piece of equipment used in a marijuana growing operation at the house likely caused enough resistance heating to start the fire, said Fire Marshall Ray Zachau Tuesday. Two of the three residents have medical marijuana cards.
Resistance heating is a common problem in improperly-constructed marijuana operations, Zachau said.
The fire marshal said he did not expect to submit anything to the El Dorado County District Attorney’s office regarding the fire but said electrical code violations can be subject to civil penalties.
The fire is a “poster child” for why the city is looking at an ordinance to ensure medical marijuana grows are in compliance with building and fire codes, said City Manager Tony O’Rourke Tuesday.
O’Rourke is part of a committee formed to develop an ordinance regulating medical marijuana cultivation in the city. The committee has focused on figuring out how to bring medical marijuana growing operations in line with existing building and fire codes.
“If the operation had adhered to proper electrical and fire codes, this probably wouldn’t have happened,” O’Rourke said.
The city attorney’s office released draft language for the medical marijuana cultivation ordinance Tuesday.
The proposed ordinance would require qualified medical marijuana growers in the city to obtain a permit no later than Jan. 1.
The permit would allow a qualified patient or caregiver to grow medical marijuana in up to 10 percent of the residence where they live. Additional cultivation space could be allowed if a qualified grower presents a doctor’s recommendation showing a need for a larger quantity of marijuana.
Under the proposed ordinance, a cultivation permit would be approved by the Community Development Director under a series of conditions, including inspections by city building and fire officials and maintaining compliance with building, electrical and fire codes.
Fees associated with a cultivation permit have been estimated at about $500 for the first year and $200 for annual renewals, but will be determined by the South Lake Tahoe City Council if they approve the ordinance.
Growing medical marijuana in industrial buildings would be allowed with a permit and permission from the property owner under the proposed ordinance.
Outdoor cultivation and most growing in commercial properties would be prohibited. Each of three marijuana collectives already established in the city would be allowed to continue growing medical marijuana in their current locations, but could not expand under the proposed ordinance.
A violation of the ordinance would be subject to a misdemeanor charge and could include penalties of up to $1,000 and 6 months in county jail.
The medical marijuana committee is expected to review the draft of the ordinance from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday at Lake Tahoe Airport.
The proposed ordinance could be before the city council for discussion as soon as their Oct. 5 meeting.