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CHATSWORTH HOME-TURNED-POT GREENHOUSE GOES UP IN SMOKE.

Byline: BRAD A. GREENBERG Staff Writer

CHATSWORTH -- In a large two-story home above a busy bus stop on Topanga Canyon Boulevard, pot peddlers converted a suburban home into a ganja greenhouse.

They installed amateur electrical wiring that powered industrial-strength lamps and fed constant light to about 100 marijuana plants of various sizes. They covered the windows. And they dug out the foundation beneath the living room because some of the plants had grown so tall.

Annual harvests could have reaped $1 million to $2 million. But three hours after the new year began, the electrical system overloaded and this pot factory went up in smoke.

It took 110 firefighters about 30 minutes to extinguish the blaze in Topanga Canyon's 8700 block. The home, which was being rented, was empty when authorities arrived. It is unclear what involvement the owner had in the operation, said Detective Robert Holcomb, officer-in-charge of the Los Angeles Police Department's Devonshire Division narcotics unit.

Ten years ago, most marijuana growers were adult users and small-time dealers with a few plants in their closet or backyard.

But dealers are increasingly transforming homes into greenhouses. With covered windows and scant foot traffic, neighbors often are none the wiser -- until police raid the facility or the musty odor of marijuana escapes and wafts over the neighborhood.

``This is much more sophisticated,'' Holcomb said. ``It is much harder to detect.''

Still, in 2006 the LAPD's Devonshire Division busted about 15 marijuana greenhouses, Holcomb said. Just like Monday, firefighters responding to a June fire found an empty Chatsworth home but lots of burned buds.

Neighbors of the burned house on Topanga Canyon weren't surprised about the existence of drugs in the area.

``Unfortunately, it is pretty much infiltrated in this whole area,'' said a neighbor who feared her safety would be jeopardized if she gave her name. ``I don't have children, thank God. If I did, I wouldn't live here.''

brad.greenberg(at)dailynews.com

(818) 713-3634

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Photo:

Authorities say this house in the 8700 block of Topanga Canyon Boulevard had been used to grow pot before it caught fire. Authorities say the electrical system was overloaded.

Tina Burch/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 3, 2007
Words:363
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