SAN JOSE -- Firefighters raced to put out an apparent electrical fire that torched the first-floor of an East San Jose home Thursday and discovered a large pot grow upstairs that was untouched by the flames, authorities said.
Now the San Jose Police Department is working to get to the stem of the operation, which yielded at least 100 marijuana plants that were seized by investigators.
The San Jose Fire Department was called at 10:14 a.m. after a passer-by saw what looked like a garage fire in the 2500 block of Brahms Avenue, near Eastridge Mall and the intersection of Quimby and Tully roads. Flames raced through the first floor, damaging cars in the garage and spreading to other rooms, fire Capt. Mike Van Elgort said.
But the first-alarm response kept the fire from spreading beyond the first floor and contained it to the affected home. It was when firefighters were making their way to the second floor that they spotted marijuana plants.
"The second floor was undamaged and appears to be used as a growhouse," Van Elgort said. "Up in those rooms, no people, just grow products. A high volume of grow products."
It might explain what caused the fire, as illegal growers are known to tamper with a home's wiring and bypass electrical meters to power their enterprises. Van Elgort would not comment on the exact cause of the blaze, citing the concurrent police investigation, but did not dissuade the theory.
"The cause appears to be electrical. I feel fairly confident we can state that," he said. "The guys did a really good job preventing it from extending into he second floor."
No injuries were reported. One of the home's three adult residents was home when the fire broke out but escaped along with four Chihuahuas rescued by firefighters. The resident was not arrested, and it is not clear what, if any, connection that person has to the pot growing operation. The rental home is now being treated as a crime scene.
The fire highlighted a rising trend of illegal indoor pot grows operating in the suburbs of San Jose. Van Elgort noted that at a glance, there would be no hint that such activity was happening at the Brahms Avenue home. Like other grow houses, it looked like just another home, hiding in plain sight until catching fire, which happened twice within four days in San Jose in March.
Besides the fire risks from tampering with electrical systems, the clandestine growing operations can be an indicator of organized crime entering a neighborhood: In the South Bay, grow houses are often run by gangs affiliated with Vietnamese coffee houses, according to the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office, which staffs the region's only full-time marijuana eradication detail.
At least one homicide has been connected to a suspected grow house this year, when a 26-year-old man was found shot to death March 17 inside a home on Eppling Lane in South San Jose, where evidence of a pot grow was found.
Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.