Marijuana grow operation security slows firefighter response, endangers nearby businesses

Denver Fire Department may seek changes in code

DENVER - Firefighters, who responded to an early morning fire at an industrial strip center near 44th and Garfield, say they were surprised to learn that it’s a marijuana grow operation.

“We try to pull up permits to see what we’re facing,” said John Afshar, of the Denver Fire Department. “But in this case it was a surprise to us.”

The fire started just before 5:30 a.m. in the building on Garfield near 44th, according to officials with the Denver Fire Department.

Flames were burning through the roof at one point, fire officials said.

Afshar says firefighters are seeing an increasing number of fires at grow operations and that those fires are posing a challenge to fire crews.

“They kind of secure these structures to the hilt,” said Firefighter Mark Watson. “So there can be a delay getting inside.”

The building on Garfield was secured with razor wire, steel doors with dead bolts, and cinder blocks over a plate glass window.

“We still want the property to be secure,” Watson said. “But in an event like this, you can see that we still need to make access to that building, in order to stop the fire from spreading.

Watson says the heavy security is putting neighboring businesses at risk.

“That’s definitely a concern,” said Carlos Ruiz, whose transmission repair shop abuts the marijuana grow operation. “All that built in security hinders the firemen’s efforts to put out the fire. That gives the fire more time to spread into my building.”

“We need to get ahead of this,” Watson said. “We need to be able to monitor this so that when we do arrive at a building like this, we know exactly what we’re running into.”

Watson says the department may seek changes in the fire code.

When asked what kinds of changes he’d like to see, Watson replied, “Once they get their (initial) permit, that’s just the start of the process. We need to be able to monitor these people all the way through the process.”

He told 7NEWS that some owners will make changes to the electrical system without obtaining further permits.

The first arriving fire crews on Garfield shut off electrical power to the grow operation, and then began moving in to extinguish the blaze with water, only to find that the power was still on.

“As you can imagine, electricity and water do not mix,” Watson said. “So we definitely want to shut that power down when we’re in there fighting the fire.”

AIRTRACKER7 flew over the operation that caught fire Monday at about 6 a.m. and crews appeared to have the fire under control.  Firefighters were mopping up hot spots by about 6:15, Denver Fire spokesperson Mark Watson told 7NEWS.

The plants were all destroyed and the cinder block building was damaged but it is not considered a total loss, Afshar said.

Investigators are looking into whether the grow operation was legal.