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Electrical connections to blame in marijuana barn blaze near Guerneville

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011 | Posted by

By RANDI ROSSMANN

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Heat lamps and electrical connections in a large barn full of marijuana plants apparently sparked the fire that destroyed a Guerneville area barn and led to the arrest of three men, fire and sheriff’s officials said Tuesday.

Outside the burned barn on rural Mays Canyon Road was another garden, this one contained 934 marijuana plants, reported Sgt. Steve Gossett.

Near the garden were tents, a portable heated shower and a toilet — apparently the campsite for the garden’s workers, said Gossett.

The barn was used for an indoor garden. In the charred ruins were remnants of more than 50 heat lamps, said Gossett.

Narcotics detectives took into custody Joseph Pearson, 34, Alexander Pearson, 33, and Timothy Crites, 32, late Monday. Where the men resided remained under investigation, he said.

They were arrested on suspicion of cultivation and possession for sale and a third crime of renting, leasing or making available a building for drug use.

The three were released from jail after posting bail.

Electrical power to the barn was substantial — 400 amps — enough for more than two standard homes or a commercial building.

The damage to the barn was so complete an official cause of the fire may not be possible, said Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman.

But the involvement of so much electrical power, “…it had to be an overloaded circuit…” said Baxman.

John Stample, who’s lived for the past 25 years off Mays Canyon Road, said the tranquility of the area has been shattered since Pearson built a home about five or six years ago. He said Pearson is rarely there, but the house has been the source of late night parties.

“It’s been a real problem,” he said.

Stample said he knew something was going on at Pearson’s barn farther up the road from Pearson’s house; there had been truck traffic up the driveway, as many as 7-8 trucks a day, hauling dirt up to the barn. When the fire broke out Sunday, Stample said, “I could see some smoke; the sky was glowing.”

Building fires stemming from indoor marijuana gardens aren’t uncommon, fire officials said.

A Petaluma fire investigator Tuesday was attempting to determine if that was the case in a fire last week at a duplex that caused about $225,000 damage.

In one week in February Santa Rosa firefighters went to two burning homes that stemmed from electrical circuitry from indoor marijuana gardens.

Sunday night’s fire was reported at about 9:15 p.m. on the remote west county road.

Investigators were told the gardens were for medicinal marijuana, but things quickly looked suspicious, said Gossett, who supervises narcotics investigations.

As firefighters maneuvered their engines up the dirt and gravel roadway to the remote fire they saw some men running from the area and at least one vehicle making its way down the hill, officials said.

Someone had tried to put out the fire with fire extinguishers, then abandoned the empty cannisters on the ground before fleeing.

And nearby almost 1000 plants were growing, ranging from seedlings to four feet.

Because of the size of the camp, Gossett said the investigation is continuing into whether more people were involved.

Writer Spotlight

Stephen Gross, The River correspondent

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