Fire call leads to discovery of pot-growing operation in Modesto

Modesto police are investigating a marijuana-growing operation that firefighters discovered when they were called to a home off McHenry Avenue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the home at 345 Semple Street, a few blocks southeast of McHenry and Morris avenues, on a report of a potential structure fire, according to Battalion Chief Hugo Patino of the Modesto Fire Department.

Firefighters found and extinguished a small fire in a room of the empty house that contained the indoor crop, Patino said. They called police.

Sgt. Pat Kimes said there were about 30 plants that were not "fully mature," estimating them at about 18 inches to 2 feet high. They were in the front bedroom of the small, single-story home.

The registered owner of the home is Leah Hess, who could not be reached for comment. A neighbor said Hess was not in the area, and believed she had been renting it.

"It looks like somebody possibly living there at some point, I don't know if they're living there now or not," Kimes said. "The place is pretty much in shambles."

Kimes described the operation as "pretty sophisticated."

"It's not the first time (they've) done this," he said, pointing to a timing system and complicated wiring used to power the operation.

He said police were told by the Modesto Irrigation District that the house uses about three to four times more electricity than similar-sized houses in the area.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. Damage was estimated at $25,000, according to Battalion Chief Terry Inderbitzen.

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