A small fire sparked by faulty wiring over the weekend in Delhi led authorities to dozens of marijuana plants, the Merced County Sheriff’s Department reported.
Miguel Angel Jimenez, 29, was arrested on suspicion of marijuana cultivation, a felony.
A Merced County-Cal Fire crew responded just before 3 a.m. Sunday to a home in the 9800 block of Merced Avenue after neighbors complained about a smoke alarm, Battalion Chief Jeremy Rahn said.
“Firefighters noticed some heat coming from the garage and evacuated the residence,” Rahn said.
Five firefighters quickly extinguished the small fire, but discovered a marijuana-growing operation in the garage, authorities said.
Deputy Delray Shelton, Sheriff’s Department spokesman, said investigators seized nearly 250 marijuana plants.
“It appears the fire started by faulty rewiring of the growing lights,” Shelton said.
Investigators believe Jimenez may have been stealing electricity to power the indoor growing operation.
Shelton said the Sheriff’s Department has seen a dramatic spike in recent months in utility thefts related to illegal marijuana production in residential neighborhoods.
Shelton said deputies are working with officials from the Merced Irrigation District, Turlock Irrigation District, and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. on as many as 75 open utility-theft cases in Merced County.
“These are becoming more and more prevalent, and they’re extremely dangerous,” Shelton said. “The fires endanger other residents in the area, and the theft of utilities causes rates to increase for others.”
Mike Jensen, a spokesman for Merced Irrigation District, said utility thefts hurt other ratepayers by increasing costs within the district.
“Not to mention how dangerous it is to rewire electricity when that person doesn’t have the knowledge or the skills to do it safely,” Jensen said. “Any case of theft is one case too many.”