If you get a persistent whiff of something strong and sickly sweet, or notice constant glaring lights in a property that seems to receive visitors at any time of day or night, you could be living or working next to one of an increasing number of potentially lethal illegal cannabis factories.
There is now a fire in a cannabis factory every two weeks in the UK, often causing extensive damage to the flats and houses where the factories are usually found, as well as potential harm to firefighters and risk to neighbouring residential properties.
The number of these fires has more than doubled in the last two years, says the London Fire Brigade (LFB). The fires usually occur when heat, often illegally obtained by tapping into mains electricity, bypassing the meter, causes the buildings where the cannabis plants are being grown, often hidden in lofts, to overheat.
The potential for disastrous fires caused by cannabis factories results from the huge amount of heating and lighting equipment, usually dangerously wired, that these plants require for their successful cultivation and explains why, on average, four fire engines and over 20 firefighters are needed to attend each one of the resulting extremely intense fires.
In addition to the high risk to firefighters from intense heat, cannabis fires can be more hazardous than fires that do not involve drugs, as unscrupulous growers often set booby traps for police and firefighters using false floors, barbed wire, sharp objects, and electrified door handles and windows that give serious electric shocks to the emergency services.
Eight tell-tale signs
The signs of potential cannabis farming are:
A strong and sickly sweet smell
Large amounts of growing equipment
Constant covered or blocked-off windows
Visitors at unsociable hours
Strong and constant lighting day and night
High levels of heat and condensation
A constant buzz from ventilators
A plethora of cables
Dave Brown, an LFB third officer, said:
Cannabis factory fires can be severe, due the way criminals use unsafe wiring to obtain electricity illegally in order to grow the plants. They are often in top floors or lofts, which means when a fire takes hold, it spreads, destroying roofs and damaging neighbouring buildings. Firefighters can also be exposed to risks when dealing with the fires, due to dodgy wiring and booby traps at some of the properties.
It’s important that people know the key signs and inform the police, so that they can act swiftly to prevent these dangerous fires.
Recent cannabis fires
A firefighter was treated for burns after a cannabis fire on the upper floor of a house in Cardiff in April this year that necessitated 42 firefighters to extinguish the blaze.In Bromley, South London, a cafe and the flat above it were extensively damaged by a cannabis fire in September. Police officers discovered more than 225 cannabis plants scattered throughout the bathroom, living room, and kitchen of the flat, as well as tents and hydroponic growing equipment. The blaze started after heat from the equipment being used to grow the cannabis caused a light to melt, setting fire to the flat.
This month, an Indian restaurant in Dudley, West Midlands, was completely destroyed by a fire in a loft containing a tent over several cannabis plants.
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