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Whonnock barn destroyed by medical marijuana grow op fire

A medical marijuana grow operation went up in smoke in east Maple Ridge Friday after a fire started in a barn that held the crop.

The blaze was called in by the homeowner around 10:15 p.m. and had fully engulfed the barn by the time firefighters arrived at the property in Whonnock on 110th Avenue, near 272nd Street.

Fire chief Peter Grootendorst, who lives close by, was on scene minutes within minutes and saw flames more than 18 metres (60 feet) high behind a stand of tall trees.

“It was kind of hard to see what was burning at first,” said Grootendorst.

“It was an old barn and we have subsequently found out it was being used to grow marijuana. Had it been in the summer time, I think we likely would have ended up with a forest fire.”

The home owner showed Grootendorst a certificate from Health Canada that allowed her to grow medical marijuana. However, she failed to disclose there was a grow op in the barn when she made the 911 call.

“The homeowner called in the fire and indicated it had started in an empty barn,” said Grootendorst.

After a series of explosions, however, firefighters determined the large square barn was not vacant, but two 100-pound propane cylinders inside. They were being used to produced carbon dioxide for the marijuana plants. The fire caused a valve to melt on one tank and split the second one.

“Propane is not supposed to be stored inside, so there was potential for a violent explosion,” said Grootendorst.

The Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs has written to Health Canada expressing their concerns about legal marijuana operations. Health Canada intends to phase out individual production licenses by 2014.

“If Health Canada is prepared to allow these, they should inform the fire department of the location and allow us to do inspections as we would with any other business,” said Grootendorst.

“We go to these types of incidents and we have no idea it’s a grow op. It is endangering firefighters’ lives.”

Investigators are unable to determine what caused the fire because the barn was completely destroyed.

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