By Tamas Mondovics
News of a house fire is never considered good, unless it leads local law enforcement officers to a the scene of a much bigger story. Such was the case during a recent call that led Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Patrol District 4 deputies to the scene of a residential fire at 906 Homewood Dr. in Brandon.
Upon arrival, the home was partially engulfed in flames and Hillsborough County Fire were on scene working to extinguishing the fire. According to HCSO Public Information officer Larry McKinnon, while there was no one home when firefighter and law enforcement personnel arrived at the scene, the first responders found plenty of unexpected items inside, as they have discovered a marijuana grow house.
“While inside the home, firefighters discovered two rooms converted into growing marijuana and multiple marijuana plants in soil filled pots,” McKinnon said.
When the smoke cleared, HCSO detectives executed a search warrant and recovered high sodium vapor lights, ballasts, fans and 31 mature marijuana plants inside the residence.
Tampa Electric Company (TECO) responded to the scene as well and also discovered an illegal electrical connection providing un-metered electricity to the residence.
The estimated theft of electricity was over $8,745, while the marijuana weighed approximately 270 pounds, which detectives said carries a street value of more than half a million dollars.
According to Hillsborough County Fire Investigator Brett Vaughan, the illegal electrical tap was the cause of the fire in this residential neighborhood.
While another residential fire is added to the County Fire Rescue’s call list, the bigger issue is the discovery of another grow house within the community that has already seen its fair share of illegal activity. It was only a month ago that Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee announced the results of a lengthy statewide narcotics investigation coined by the department “Operation Hydro Hustlers,” which busted a major drug growing ring.
Gee said that the investigation began in March of 2015, netting 22 arrests while it revealed 10 grow houses, eight of which were in Hillsborough County.
Investigators said that the Homewood Drive grow house is the 16th marijuana grow operation that has been eradicated in 2016. No arrest has been made pending further investigation.