An enormous cannabis farm worth £750,000 has been seized by police after a fire broke out in the St Helens house where it was being kept.
Merseyside Police were called to Riding Close to assist the fire brigade at around 5pm on Tuesday.
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Flames tore through the house, causing extensive damage, and also caused neighbouring properties to become filled with smoke.
The blaze was so severe that a 19-year-old woman and an 18-month-old baby in one of the other homes affected had to be treated for smoke inhalation.
The huge cannabis fire was discovered in the house where the blaze broke out and early indications are that the incident was caused by an electricity meter being bridged for the growth of the plants.
A full investigation is under way and enquiries are continuing to locate the occupants and those responsible for the cannabis farm.
A total of 187 plants were discovered at the property, with 19 damaged by fire, along with the equipment needed for growing them.
Police estimate the farm would have had a yearly haul of around £750,000.
DI Jackie Guinness from Merseyside Police said: “It is totally unacceptable that the actions of these criminals have caused a toddler and a young woman to suffer such effects as a result of their neighbours setting up a cannabis farm in a residential area.
"The risks of living close to this location are plain to see, with flood and fire risk inevitable, plus the serious and violent crime that cannabis supply attracts.
“It is believed that the occupants of the property are not the owners as the house is a private rental property. I would like to appeal to all landlords and property owners renting out a house to ensure the references you obtain from potential tenants are relevant and satisfactory and that you know who your tenants are.
“If you suspect that cannabis is being grown near you, get in touch and we will investigate further and remove the risk. It is vital that we keep dismantling cannabis farms and rid our communities of those criminals that endanger the lives of others."
Residents are now being asked to learn the signs of a potential cannabis farm in their area so police can be alerted to suspicious activity.
Indicators the plants are being grown include: strange smells and sounds, frequent and varied visitors to a property, often at unusual times, gardening equipment such as plant pots, fertiliser, fans and industrial lighting being taken into a property, windows remaining sealed or covered and curtains being permanently closed, an adjoining property being unusually warm, and birds gathering on a roof in cold weather.
Police said that while individually these activities may seem commonplace, together they could indicate something more sinister.
Anyone with information on suspected cannabis growing in their community can contact call police on 101 or speak anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.