A marijuana growth facility.
(Via Pixabay)

Electrical issue tied to illegal indoor cannabis grows prompts county to warn public about fire risk

The detection of electrical meter tampering and bypassing in mountain, wooded areas such as Boulder Creek and Ben Lomond have county officials asking people to be aware of — and report — such hazards.

Santa Cruz County officials are sounding an alarm about illegal indoor cannabis growth centers that pose wildfire hazards, prompted in part by a December blaze in Boulder Creek sparked by a so-called electrical bypass.

Authorities discovered 910 cannabis plants inside that facility — part of a trend countywide, officials say.

Sheriff’s office personnel assigned to the county’s Cannabis Licensing Office “have located numerous electrical bypasses and meter tampering at sites associated with unlawful indoor cannabis cultivations,” citing other locations in Boulder Creek, Ben Lomond and Soquel where indoor grows have been located in recent months, according to a county news release.

Electrical bypassing occurs when an occupant installs wiring around an electrical meter or tampers with a meter to receive unregulated power from PG&E. Overloading of that circuitry can cause sparks.

Though county officials didn’t cite the recent incidents as being connected to any large fires like the ones seen in Santa Cruz County last month, “electrical meter tampering and bypassing are very dangerous and place the community at risk for wildfires caused by overloaded transformers and electrical grids,” county officials said.

Flickering lights or brief power outages could be signs of the problem, according to the county, and should be reported to PG&E. If indoor cultivation is suspected, they ask that people call the Cannabis Licensing Office at (831) 454-3426.

Among the 19 suspects charged is Jose Manuel Rodriguez Naranjo, who has ties to Watsonville. The Watsonville Police...

“Investigations associated with electrical bypasses and meter tampering are referred to the District Attorney’s Office for criminal prosecution,” county officials said. “In addition, electrical service to homes with bypasses, meter tampering or unsafe indoor cultivation wiring is often disconnected until the system can be repaired and inspected.”