A LIVE demonstration of the fire risk that cannabis farms pose to the public took place today as part of a hard-hitting awareness-raising campaign by emergency services.

An area replicating a sophisticated cannabis farm that had been set up in a house was set ablaze at Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service’s training headquarters.

The fire – sparked as a result of dangerous wiring commonly used to bypass the electricity meter – quickly tore through the house.

Emergency services hoped the graphic demonstration will hit home the message that it is in everyone’s interests to report these dangerous and illegal drug factories, which can cause extensive damage and jeopardise the lives of anyone who lives in neighbouring homes.

The move comes as national crime-fighting charity Crimestoppers joins forces with the police and fire service in educating people about the tell-tale signs of a cannabis factory operating where they live and how to report it anonymously.

Last year’s campaign led to a 28% increase in reporting to Crimestoppers.

New figures released by Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service show that between January 1,2 011 and December 31, 2013, firefighters extinguished 73 fires involving cannabis farms – 12 of which were in Wirral.

In October last year, firefighters discovered a cannabis farm above a shop on Broadway, Bebington.

Around 90 plants were found in the first floor flat and a further 108 in an adjoining property.

It is thought the blaze was caused by an electrical fault as a result of the property’s electricity being bypassed.

And in November, firefighters extinguished a barn fire at The Green, Raby, and discovered around 100 cannabis plants.

Between January 1 this year and May 31, firefighters in Merseyside attended 12 locations where cannabis was located, including eight fires that were extinguished by fire crews.

Detective Chief Superintendent Paul Richardson from Matrix Serious Organised Crime, said: "Cannabis is not a harmless drug and its production is large in scale and large in profit here in Merseyside as well as elsewhere in the country.

“The quantities that it is being grown in here means it is rarely people doing it to feed their own casual habit - it is organised criminal gangs who are setting them up and controlling them.

"We are determined to put a stop to this and we are discovering so many cannabis farms now that we have a dedicated team whose job it is to dismantle every one we find and capture the evidence the criminals leave behind.

"Sadly, these farms are being set up in residential areas where innocent people live and they are putting people's lives at risk.

“Cannabis farms are a serious fire risk in that the electricity meters are almost always tampered with to steal electricity, hot lamps will have been rigged up to simulate ideal growing conditions, and a watering system will also be in place.

“Electricity and water are never a good combination and these criminals care little about the people their crude handiwork may harm.

"There have been dozens of times recently where the fire service have been called to a house fire only to discover a cannabis farm alight inside and it is only thanks to their swift response that the fire has not spread to a house next door where innocent people live.”

Myles Platt, Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service area manager for prevention and protection, added: “Cannabis farms and locations where cannabis is grown are simply dangerous.

“The farms and fires pose a great risk to members of the public and firefighters alike with many not have working smoke alarms in the properties or any means of fire detection.

“As a result of tampering with the electrical supply and tampering with the wiring installation, often by self-taught ‘experts’, the supply to the property may not be properly earthed and the cabling not secured.

“This could cause metal items within the property to become ‘live’, posing a risk of electrocution to members of the public and firefighters and potential for getting tangled in the cables in heat and smoke.”

As part of the crackdown, thousands of scratch and sniff cards have been handed out with the aim of helping people to identify the smell of cultivated cannabis.

  • If you have suspicions of cannabis cultivation in your area call police on 101 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.