Two days before Christmas, Pitt Meadows was hit by an early morning barn fire connected to the growing of legal medical marijuana.
Exactly one week earlier, the federal government was in Maple Ridge, at the main firehall, announcing proposed changes to how and where medical marijuana would be grown and sold, citing dangers to neighbours and emergency responders as the lead contributors to the 10-year-old regulations.
While Pitt Meadows fire chief Don Jolley welcomed the suggested changes, he said even more is needed and this weekend's fire speaks to that.
The call came in to 9-1-1 at about 2:30 on Sunday morning, Dec. 23, from a passerby reporting a barn on McDonald Road was fully involved in flames.
"Either it was burning for a long time before it was discovered, or it was a case of unnatural acceleration caused by something in the building_" Jolley said.
"It's obviously suspicious in nature."
The barn was completely surrounded by a high chain link and barbed wire fence with Health Canada warning signs posted, Jolley explained, noting he and his team were never made aware of its existence prior to the fire.
"This is apparently standard practice, but we consider it unacceptable due the hazards and safety concerns to firefighters and others," Jolley said, noting a man, the lone occupant of the house, was questioned and removed by RCMP.
"Severe hazards to firefighters were present as the fire was heavily involved on our arrival and the fire was impinging on two 250-pound propane tanks situated right beside the barn," he recounted.
The danger didn't end there. The overhead powerlines were arching and burning and then fell "almost directly onto the propane tanks resulting in a highly dangerous situation where the arching lines could have grounded on the tanks," said the chief.
Following protocol, upon learning it was a medical pot growing operation and there were enhanced dangers, firefighters were kept well away from the structure.
"Initially fire crews simply established a heavy master water stream applied over the propane tanks to cool them," keeping their distance until hydro could disconnect the power about half an hour after the fire crew arrived.
"Once this was done we surrounded the structure with hose lines and poured water onto it to complete extinguishment," Jolley said.
"Neighbours reported they were not unhappy to see it burn down as they have felt unsafe ever since it arrived. They reported numerous incidents at the property in the past and some reported that they feared for their children's safety any time they were outside in the nearby areas."
Firefighters and police remained on scene until almost 9 a.m. Sunday morning, and according to Jolley the investigation is ongoing.
"The fire department feels that these 'businesses' should be treated the same as any other and subject to full building and fire inspection procedures by the City. While the government of Canada has recently announced new procedures that they hope to establish for these type of operations, there is still a very real concern from our department that there needs to be greater regulatory oversight and much greater enforcement of safety, utility, and mechanical work," he said.
"Additionally, local governments and their public safety, building and development departments must be notified of these operations at the concept stage and be fully involved in their inclusion into the community. Simply designating them to rural areas will not solve the problems as we have just seen with this fire and public and firefighter safety will still be at significant risk until much greater measures are implemented to improve safety and security for these 'legal' operations."
@ Copyright 2013