YAKIMA, Wash. — Wiring at a marijuana grow operation started a fire that damaged two apartments Saturday night, fire officials said.
The fire started just after 7 p.m. in a five-unit apartment complex in the 1600 block of Browne Avenue. No one was injured and all residents evacuated safely before fire crews got there, but several residents were displaced, Yakima battalion chief Tom Sevigny said Sunday.
Crews arriving on the scene initially couldn’t get to the basement fire because of the excessive heat from the blaze.
“Conditions for the firefighters were very hot. That stairwell acted like a chimney, preventing a street-side fire attack,” battalion chief Mitch Cole said in a news release.
Crews were later able to get to the fire from the alley and controlled the flames from there.
Damage to the apartments was estimated at $60,000. In total, 18 firefighters from the city of Yakima responded to the call. It was unclear Sunday whether anyone had been arrested in connection with the marijuana growing operation.
Cole said he anticipates seeing more fires like this now that Initiative 502 has made limited marijuana possession legal in the state, even though growing operations are still illegal.
Sevigny said there are several risk factors for fires associated with grow operations.
It takes a lot of electricity to power the grow lights, which can be a red flag to a power company if residents suddenly start using significantly more electricity than normal, Sevigny said.
“To avoid that sometimes, (growers) will bypass the meter so it doesn’t register, which is illegal and also really dangerous,” he said. “Or if they don’t modify it, they can overload the electrical system and cause a fire that way.”
The investigation into the exact cause of Saturday’s fire is ongoing.