The Upshur County Sheriff’s Office is investigating “a significant indoor marijuana growing operation” which was discovered Saturday afternnoon during a rural house fire call in the West Mountain community area, said authorities.
Nobody was found at the scene in the 200 block of Sorrell Road, and no arrests had been made as of Monday morning, said sheriff’s Chief Deputy David Hazel. The home suffered “moderate” damage, he said.
“As firefighters and responding officers searched the location for injured or trapped persons, they discovered that the home, along with a detached building on the property, were being used to grow marijuana plants,” Hazel said.
Inside the two structures, “investigators located over 70 suspected marijuana plants, ranging from recently harvested remnants to plants over 6 feet tall,” he wrote. “Thousands of dollars worth of equipment and electronics powered the location and provided artificial sunlight for the plants,” Hazel added.
“The plants were being grown in large pots containing soil that appeared to be well fertilized and nourished,” he wrote.
The chief deputy also said “propane canisters were inside the structures and it is possible that a leaking canister may have contributed to the blaze, but that is not a conclusive determination at this time. There was evidence of a sudden ignition.”
Hazel reported that 911 dispatchers had received the fire call about 5:30 p.m., and that “witnesses reported hearing an explosion, followed by a car leaving the scene at a high rate of speed.” The evidence of a sudden ignition explained witnesses’ reporting what they heard, he said.
Gilmer and West Mountain firefighters responded to the blaze, and its cause remains under investigation, Hazel noted.
“When the fire was extinguished, District Attorney Billy Byrd assisted investigators in seeking and receiving a search warrant to begin a criminal investigation into the location,” the chief deputy added.
He also said the sheriff’s office has “some indicators of those involved in the” growing, “but further investigation must still be done. It is possible that this operation extends outside of Texas.”
Upshur County Precinct 1 Constable Tim Barnett, who joined sheriff’s deputies in responding to the scene, “developed information early after the incident that gave important direction to possible parties involved in the illegal operation,” Hazel continued.
Investigators, meantime, moved the marijuana and equipment “to a secure location under the control of the sheriff’s office.”
Hazel said that while firefighters arrived quickly enough to prevent major damage to the wooden exterior double-wide house, he said he doubted it would be inhabitable again despite suffering moderate smoke and soot damage and remaining standing. Anyone with information which might help the investigation is asked to call the Criminal Investigation Division of the sheriff’s office at 903-843-2541.
– By Phillip Williams