LARGO — While putting out a fire inside a business complex on Ulmerton Road late Thursday night, firefighters discovered something more than smoke and flames.
Hidden in an unoccupied storefront, they found a marijuana growing operation that was producing about $120,000 worth of the drug.
In fact, the high-heat light bulbs used to grow the pot turned out to be the cause of the fire, authorities said.
The marijuana grow house was tucked inside Unit No. 108 of the American Business Center at 8300 Ulmerton Road, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
The complex just east of Starkey Road houses a number of businesses that sell products like hardwood floors and copy machines as well as services like pool cleaning and locksmiths.
The Sheriff's Office gave the following account:
Shortly before midnight Thursday, a sheriff's forensic specialist named Sandee Jacobs was driving by there and noticed smoke coming from the building. She called for fire rescue.
Once the fire was out, firefighters found a room inside Unit 108 dedicated to growing marijuana. Sheriff's narcotics detectives took over the investigation. They seized 43 marijuana plants weighing a total of about 100 pounds, as well as marijuana growing equipment.
Detectives want to highlight the dangers of such indoor growing operations, said Pinellas sheriff's Sgt. Tom Nestor. The chemicals and high-heat light bulbs used to produce marijuana plants indoors can have deadly consequences.
Had the fire gone undetected, the entire business complex could have become engulfed in flames quickly, Nestor said. In this case, no one was injured since the unit appeared to be unoccupied.
Detectives are investigating but haven't identified any suspects so far, Nestor said.