Salem house fire leads to pot

Firefighters who fought a house fire at 531 Aetna St. early Friday found more than just heavy fire damage when the smoke cleared, discovering what appeared to be an indoor marijuana grow.

Columbiana County Drug Task Force Director Lt. Brian McLaughlin, of the sheriff's office, said agents found 60 marijuana plants in various stages of growth after a resident, who is the son of the homeowner, signed a consent to search. The marijuana was seized along with lights and growing equipment.

McLaughlin said charges will be filed as the investigation continues. When asked if they had already been investigating anything at the residence, he said the DTF had not been tipped off to anything there until Salem Police, who were at the fire for traffic control, contacted them.

When asked if any of the suspected marijuana had been burned during the fire, he said the plants were in a different area of the house on the first floor.

Firefighters were called to the two-story home at 4:39 a.m. for a structure fire, calling in off-duty personnel to help out. A resident said the fire started in the kitchen and that everyone was out of the house except for two cats. One cat perished while the other cat was missing.

Unattended cooking was blamed as the cause, leaving heavy fire damage on the first floor and smoke and heat damage on the second floor, according to Salem Fire Capt. Shawn Mesler. Ceilings and walls were opened up to extinguish hidden fires. Ohio Edison and Columbia Gas shut off the utilities and the city water department responded to shut off the water at the curb.

The fire department report listed Charles McGhee as the owner. His son Justin lived there with his girlfriend, Mistia Damelio and her father, Tom Damelio, according to firefighters. According to firefighters, Justin had renters' insurance and the American Red Cross was helping the elder Damelio.

Damages were listed as $20,000 for the property and $6,000 for contents.

In other Drug Task Force business on Friday, McLaughlin said agents executed a search warrant at 43671 Cream Ridge Road, Lisbon, looking for drugs based on an investigation. The home is owned by Lisa Clark. Drug paraphernalia, including needles, were seized, but he said no drugs were found except for possible residue. Charges are pending.

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