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Up in smoke:

Firefighters battle blaze, discover marijuana plants

Orion Fire Lt. Tim Gale sprays down a hot spot inside an Oxford Township home that burned Tuesday morning. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
July 04, 2012 - Where there's smoke, there's fire. And in this case, there was also marijuana.

On Tuesday morning, Oxford and Orion firefighters battled a house fire on N. Oxford Rd., directly across from the high school.

Approximately 28 marijuana plants were discovered inside the house. The three occupants said they are legally allowed to grow them as registered patients and caregivers under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA).

The fire investigator from the Oakland County Sheriff's Department indicated the cause of the blaze is "undetermined" at this point, according to Oxford Fire Chief Pete Scholz.

"There was an electronic device in the area (where the fire started), a dehumidifier," he said.

It's suspected the dehumidifier may have shorted out or malfunctioned. "(The fire) started right at the floor level (of the kitchen area), went up inside the wall, then right into the attic," Scholz said.

Scholz noted the kitchen area appeared to have been transformed into a "production area" as it contained assorted implements for the indoor growing process.

Oxford firefighters arrived on scene at 8:34 a.m. and had it under control by 8:58 a.m. Members of the Orion Township Fire Department were on scene to offer assistance, while Brandon's fire dept. covered Oxford's medical calls.

The house suffered extensive damage. "If you had to fix everything and put it back to code, you've probably got $100,000 worth of damage," Scholz said. "They're going to have issues trying to bring it up to code . . . There's smoke and heat (damage) throughout the whole house."

Scholz noted this fire is a great example of how smoke detectors can save lives and prevent injuries. "The girl said the smoke detector woke her up," he said. "Then she woke up the other two people."

As a result of the fire, it was discovered the home's three occupants were growing approximately 28 marijuana plants, which they said are supplied to patients for medicinal purposes. The two males, both age 27, claimed they are state-registered caregivers, while the female, age 22, claimed she's a state-registered patient, according to sheriff's Sgt. Scott Patterson, commander of the Oxford substation.

When asked if the occupants' presented their state-issued registry cards, Patterson replied, "They said they burned up in the fire."

The sheriff's Narcotics Enforcement Team confiscated all the marijuana plants, while its officers check with the state to verify the occupants' claims.

Under state law, registered patients can grow up to 12 marijuana plants for their own personal use. Each registered caregiver can assist up to five registered patients and is allowed to cultivate up to 12 marijuana plants per patient.

Although the house is technically located within a drug-free school zone – which means the penalties for illegal drug-related activities in this area are stiffer – if all the occupants are registered with the state under the MMMA, then they are legally allowed to grow marijuana there, according to Patterson.

"If they're not doing anything illegal, they're good," the sergeant said. "The law only applies to illegal drug activity in a school zone."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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