Series of Problems Plagues Crew Battling Blaze

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    NBCSanDiego

    A browned-out station and a series of mechanical failures slowed firefighters called out to battle a blaze at what turned out to be a small marijuana growing operation in San Diego.

    Three fire engines at the closest stations were all sidelined by the same mechanical problem, according to fire officials, and a fourth engine was out-of-service. Then, when firefighters finally did arrive, they smelled something very unusual in the garage of the burning Clairemont home: marijuana

    "There's extensive damage to the home, damage to the interior also, and the garage is destroyed," said San Diego Fire/Rescue spokesman Maurice Luque .

    There was $600,000 damage to the house and its contents, damage that might have been avoided if fire trucks had got there sooner.

    "Because the engine companies that generally serve this area were out of service -- primarily because of mechanical reasons -- we had to bring in units from farther away," Luque said.

    Adding to the delays: Yet another fire engine was out of service due to "rolling brownouts" caused by the city's financial problems. In all, the response time was more than nine minutes -- that, compared to the department's five to six minute average.
       
    Alleged illegal activity by the home's occupants age was also an issue.

    "The occupants ... have told police here at the scene that was the case, and they were growing marijuana here in the garage," Luque said.

    Investigators said extension cords used in the small marijuana farm -- or a cigarette discarded carelessly in the garage -- are believed to have started the blaze.

    The fire spread from the garage to the house to the attic and then throughout the house.

    Another complication from the marijuana fire: A spokesman said some firefighters inhaled the pot smoke and might test positive on their next random drug test.  The spokesman said the department will make official note of what happened so that the firefighters will not be penalized for a positive drug test.