A house fire at Cobbs Creek on Tuesday afternoon led to the discovery of a large marijuana growing operation and the arrest of the homeowner on drug charges.
Sheriff Mark Barrick said that his office had received information on the homeowner, Kenneth M. Putt, 48, of 2722 Buckley Hall Road, Cobbs Creek, earlier this year and had done several surveillance operations on his house but hadn’t been able to charge him with anything.
But when Putt decided to burn weeds around the foundation of his house with a blow torch, said Barrick, “he just happened to bring it together for us.”
The action, which was observed by witnesses, apparently set the house on fire, said Barrick, and the fire department was called to respond at 1:08 p.m. When they made entry to the house through an upper window, he said, firefighters discovered what they believed to be marijuana, and they called the sheriff’s office to investigate.
Barrick said that after the fire was out, the sheriff’s office took control of the home, obtained a search warrant, and contacted other members of the Middle Peninsula Drug Task Force to help with processing the crime scene and collecting evidence.
What they found was one of the most sophisticated operations the task force had ever seen, said Barrick. He said the entire second floor of the house was taken up by a hydroponic growing system, with ventilation, lighting, heating, and extensive use of PVC pipe.
Barrick said 352 plants and two pounds of ready-to-package marijuana buds were found, with an estimated value of $1,065,000. Putt was charged with felony counts of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and manufacture of marijuana with intent to distribute.
The investigation is continuing, said Barrick.
Fire Captain Ricky Tomlinson said that the house sustained approximately $25,000 in fire and water damage. The fire apparently started in the front left-hand corner, he said, where there was a flower bed containing some vines that traveled up the side of the house. A neighbor called to report the fire.
Fire personnel were on the scene for about 30 minutes before it could be determined that the fire was under control, said Tomlinson, because of the possibility of the fire traveling up between the studs of the old house, which had balloon-style construction. But the fire wasn’t the most interesting part of the call.
“It was quite the afternoon when we saw what was going on upstairs,” said Tomlinson.
Five pieces of fire apparatus and about 20 firefighters from Mathews were on the scene.
Tomlinson thanked Gloucester Volunteer Fire and Rescue for providing mutual aid with two engines and a dozen or so firefighters.
article reprinted from April 25, 2013 with permission from Glocester-Mathews Gazette-Journal