When the blaze finally was out, authorities entered the 4,000-square-foot home to discover that nearly three-quarters of the first floor was being used to grow the illicit plant. Most of the marijuana was destroyed by the flames.
Police are still investigating the cause of the fire, but said that squatters may have had something to do with it, especially since the house has long sat vacant.
The incident is the latest in what some experts call a budding trend: The vast inventory of foreclosures and otherwise vacant homes in states hit hard by the housing crisis are proving fertile ground for marijuana grow operations.
Think we're blowing smoke? In Nevada, which suffered greatly from a run-up in speculative buying during the housing bubble, the discovery of pot-grow homes has risen dramatically. In 2005, when prices were still on a meteoric rise, there were 18 reported pot sites and 1,000 confiscated plants in the state, the Los Angeles Times reported. In 2010, there were 153 recorded grow operations and 13,000 plants found.
With an enormous surge in foreclosures in states like Nevada, Florida and Arizona, vacant homes and urban blight are not far behind. When bank-owned homes fail to sell at foreclosure, vandals and squatters can run amok. As these foreclosures languish on the market, neighboring homes suffer from property value declines, exacerbating sellers' problems in an already stagnant market.
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