WONTHAGGI Police got lucky when misfortune struck a group of dope growers in the town last Sunday afternoon.
Nearby residents in Broome Crescent Wonthaggi heard a loud bang in the middle of the day on Sunday and came outside to see flashes, sparks and smoke issuing from the power box on a house close by.
They called the fire brigade but no one expected what fire crews would find when they arrived on the scene to extinguish what was a relatively minor blaze.
Police said the alarm was raised at about 2pm in the afternoon.
“They’ve called triple 0 and the fire brigade has responded to a fire in the power box, where the power comes into the property,” said Leading Senior Constable Nick Carlson of the Bass Coast Crime Tasking Unit.
“They’ve also forced entry to see if there was any fire activity inside and they’ve found what we’d call a crop house with multiple rooms set up as a growing operation, with plants of various sizes, lamps and all the rest.”
LSC Carlson said 201 plants were collected from what was a commercial cannabis growing operation.
The drug bust comes at a time when ‘drug dealing and trafficking’ offences in Bass Coast are up by 52.6% for the year to the end of March 2017, while ‘cultivation and manufacture’ offences were up by 27.3%.
It’s a similar story in South Gippsland where trafficking is up by 122.2% from a low base of nine to 20 offences in the year, with cultivation/manufacture offences up by 72.7%.
Police have not put a value on this latest crop find.
“Some of the plants were small, 30cm to 50cm in height, but there were others well over a metre tall, and quite healthy.
“We haven’t put a value on it yet. We’ll have our botanists working on that to determine a value.”
He said police cleared the house of plants, growing paraphernalia and evidence between 5.30pm and 7pm on Sunday evening.
“We do have certain information but we’ll keep that to ourselves at this stage. Investigations are continuing.”
He said local residents had been helpful in providing police with information about the comings and goings from the house but so far no one has been arrested and charged over the incident.
“The community will express concern when these operations are found in their neighbourhood, when they didn’t know they were there, but there’s no particular problem here.
“These things will be set up anywhere where it’s a bit quiet and mostly people won’t know about it.
“Quite often it is a fire that alerts authorities to a drug lab or crop house, as it did in this situation,” he said.
Local residents were milling around while the fire brigade attended to the initial incident and after police arrived.
“All the blinds were down on the house but you can see all these pipes coming out from the side of the house,” said one resident of the street.
“We’ve seen a person of [racial description] appearance coming and going at times. He gave his name as [deleted] but I couldn’t tell you how long they’ve been in there. Maybe a year.
“No one knew what was going on in there,” she said.
Another resident said it was a bit of a worry, when you have a young family, to hear of this sort of activity nearby.
Generally though, crime detection or activity was down in Bass Coast for the year ending March 31, 2017 by 16% but up in South Gippsland by 33.1%.