One of two fires early Friday in Pitt Meadows was previously a licensed marijuana grow operation, according to one of the two fire chiefs.
However, firefighters found no evidence of such in the debris of the fire at a former nursery on Ford Road Detour, said co-acting chief Mike Larsson.
It was a licensed site in the past, he added.
Gordon Zeilstra rents a basement suite in the main house on the property, by 176 Avenue and the Dr. Bee nursery, of the second fire and called 911 after hearing a “pop” seeing flames shooting into the sky around 5:20 a.m.
“It sounded like a car door closing.”
He warned the dispatcher that one building was being used for storage and had two large tanks of diesel fuel, for farm vehicles.
A large, warehouse-like building was engulfed in flames by the time crews arrived and the roof of the structure had collapsed.
Zeilstra, 54, has lived on the property for six years and said the former Van Vloten nursery used to ship evergreen trees and hedges, but in recent years operated as a blueberry farm.
The fire seemed to start in one of two buildings formerly used as loading docks and offices.
Zeilstra said the one being used for storage contained a Hayabusa motorcycle, a Mercedes Benz and two ultra-light planes, as well as industrial machinery, computers and furniture.
“That place was packed full and it wasn’t junk.”
As for the southeast building, where he first saw flames coming from, Zeilstra confirmed it was still recently used as a licensed grow-op and wired and equipped for such.
“Nothing had been taken out. The lighting and the electrical were still there,” he added.
“I could smell it growing a few days ago. You could smell it sometimes if the wind was blowing right.”
Zeilstra said police had visited the property in the past and knew about the licensed grow operation.
“They have been there and knew it was legal.”
The owner of the farm on Ford Road is Amrik Samra, who was in India at the time. He has owned the blueberry farm since 2007.
His son Arvinder was staying at the farm and said the fire woke up him and his family, who were wakened by the downstairs tenant.
“It started from the far side, it looked like,” Arvinder Samra said. “We have two barns there. It went from that one to this one, and was just all engulfed in flames.”
Larsson said there was extensive damage in the second fire.
“When those two diesel tanks went, it was just an inferno,” he added. “The roof collapsed, the wall collapses – there’s not much left there.”
Besides diesel fuel, fire crews were also concerned about live hydro lines, and there were reports of explosions of some scale. As well, the sub-zero weather complicated efforts as the fire department had to contend with the possibility of hoses freezing.
The first fire in Pitt Meadows started just after midnight near Old Dewdney Trunk Road. It was discovered by neighbours and involved two cattle barns.
Larsson confirmed that a farmer and several neighbours were working to save the cattle, but that more than a dozen and as many as 25 were killed.
Pitt Meadows’other co-acting fire chief, Brad Perrie, said that when crews arrived, one building fully involved, with flames spreading to the second.
The causes of the fires are not known, and it is not suspected that they were related.
– with files from Canadian Press.