Lincoln fire may be linked to pot-growing operation

LINCOLN — An experienced investigator suspects that the fire that destroyed a Ripton Road home in Lincoln on the night of Jan. 14 was caused by an electrical apparatus for illegal marijuana growing.
According to Robert Patterson, firefighters at the scene of the fire discovered thousands of dollars worth of marijuana plants in the barn at 3625 Ripton Road, tipped off by the smell as fire engulfed the house. The barn, with the marijuana plants inside, did not burn down.
“As I understand it, they (firefighters working near the barn) could smell it, the grow operation, from the outside,” said Patterson, who is lead fire investigator of the Addison County Firefighters’ Association, a one-time chief of the Lincoln Fire Department and retired chief of the state Division of Fire Safety’s fire investigation unit.
“They were staged right next to the barn — I mean right next to it — and just inside the door near where (firefighters) were standing is where the grow was,” said Patterson, who invested the fire onsite the next day but was not at the fire itself.
Patterson said he investigated the fire on the morning of Jan. 15, carefully analyzing the structure and the remains and conducting additional interviews. Once he established the fire’s point of origin, Patterson said that the only potential source of the fire in that area was a small electrical heater-like unit that the property owner said he used to start plants. Patterson also found the remains of some lightweight cords, a light fixture, potting soil and the root balls and charred stems of two plants.
Given the evidence left by the fire itself, the interviews Patterson conducted with property owner David Di Pentima and the large number of marijuana plants found in the barn, Patterson determined that the heat source that started the fire was related to the growing operations itself.
“I found a device, a small box and the owner indicated to me, he’s the one that stated that he started his grow with that box,” said Patterson. “It provided heat energy of some sort.”
Patterson also said that he could not identify the type of plants he found in the remains of the fire without further tests.
“I found two plants, but could I exactly tell you that (marijuana plants) is what they were? I can’t because you’d have to have them analyzed,” Patterson said.
“The owner believed he had three outlets on the north wall and I only found one and that was not in the area of origin. So there was no other electrical potential in the area where the fire ensued,” said Patterson. He elaborated that aside from the small heater-like unit, there was no other potential source of fire. “There just was no other heat source,” Patterson said.
Patterson said the Lincoln fire exemplifies some of his concerns about the legalization of marijuana.
“In just under six months’ time (after legalization of marijuana in Colorado), the number of grow operation fires Colorado experienced went up by two-thirds,” said Patterson. “Normally they have around 10 fires but they had 30 or 31 in just under six months’ time, which is a substantial increase.”
The marijuana-growing operation is under investigation by Lincoln constable Josh Otey, who was at the fire.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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