RIVERSIDE: Firefighters find false walls, marijuana grow, while battling structure fire

RIVERSIDE  — Officials cited a business owner after firefighters discovered an illegal marijuana grow while battling a structure fire Tuesday evening, December 19. According to fire and police officials, the fire broke out in a commercial building on the 6200 block of Columbus Avenue in Riverside.

Firefighters battling a structure fire were confronted by several false walls that were hiding an illegal, indoor marijuana grow. Loudlabs News photo

The 2000 square foot, single-story business that burned, which has Ritchie Construction listed on the front and side of the building, is located on the corner of Columbus Avenue and Republic Street, north of Jurupa Avenue. It was not immediately known if the building is still owned and used by the construction company.

Firefighters’ efforts to battle the blaze were hindered when they encountered several false walls that were designed to hide a large, indoor, marijuana grow operation from being spotted inside the building.

City of Riverside firefighters were dispatched to the scene of the fire about 8 p.m., after witnesses called 911 to report the structure fire.

Thirty-one firefighters from five engine companies and two truck companies were dispatched to the fire, according to City of Riverside Battalion Chief Jeff DeLaurie. They were assisted by a breathing support unit.

The first arriving engine company reported finding thick smoke pouring out from all four sides of the business and requested additional resources to the scene to assist.

When firefighters began efforts to make entry into the building through a roll-up door, they encountered the first of at least two false walls. Other firefighters making entry through another door of the business found their forward progress halted once again by another false wall.

“The false walls throughout the building proved challenging as firefighters worked to find and extinguish the smoky fire,” DeLaurie explained.

Firefighters battling the blaze found several false walls designed to hide an illegal marijuana grow. Loudlabs News photo

Once firefighters gained full entry into the building through a third door, they discovered an illegal, indoor marijuana grow inside the building.

While fighting the blaze, firefighters wore breathing apparatus’ to protect themselves from the thick smoke and they managed to knock the fire down in about thirty minutes, according to DeLaurie.

Once firefighters extinguished the blaze, they requested Riverside PD detectives to the scene to investigate the marijuana grow. Officials later seized more than 340 marijuana plants from the business, Riverside PD spokesman Ryan Railsback said as the investigation was getting underway.

Firefighters remained at the scene of the fire for about 3 hours conducting overhaul operations.

No injuries related to the fire were reported.

According to other reports, Riverside police officials later located and arrested the owner of the warehouse for having illegal cultivation of marijuana. He was cited and released, pending further investigation.

The owners name was not immediately known.

The cause of the fire and whether there were code violations related to the grow, utilities use and installation of false walls is under investigation.

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Contact the writer: trevor.rcns@gmail.com

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Trevor Montgomery, who recently moved from Riverside County to Shasta County, runs Riverside County News Source and Shasta County News Source. Additionally, he writes for Riverside County based newspapers Valley News, The Valley Chronicle and Anza Valley Outlook as well as Bonsall/Fallbrook Village News in San Diego County.

Trevor spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg, breaking his back and suffering both spinal cord and brain injuries in an off-duty accident.

During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations, including Robert Presley Detention Center, Southwest Station in Temecula, Hemet/Valle Vista Station, Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center and Lake Elsinore Station, along with other locations.

Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team and Personnel/Background Investigations. He finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator and was a court-designated expert in child abuse and child sex-related crimes.

Trevor has been married for more than 27 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and has 13 children and 14 grandchildren.

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