PORT CARBON -- Firefighters discovered a major marijuana growing operation while battling flames in Schuylkill County.
Officials say it was a stubborn fire in Port Carbon. Flames on North Coal Street were still burning four hours after the alarm was called in.
Fire officials say the blaze started in one side of the double-block home and then spread to the other side. That side was occupied by Larmar Staller and his wife and daughter.
"I am just glad my family is safe. A house can be replaced. It`s my family i am worried about," Staller said.
A lot of the family's possessions were saved. Firefighters retrieved all kind of items from the Staller family home.
Five of their cats died but firefighters were seen reviving a sixth. Britches was given oxygen and taken to a vet.
Lt. Tim Walsh said he was one of those attending to the cat.
"I would hope and pray that someone would get my cat out of there. It`s gut wrenching, it really is to see all those cats pulled out of there," Lt. Walsh said.
While fighting the fire, first responders made a surprising discovery: they say they found a large marijuana farm inside the home where the fire started. They spent more than an hour taking out hundreds of plants and all the equipment to grow the illegal weed. Police Chief Jon Bowman was surprised over the scope of the operation.
"This was able to slip under the radar in such a short period of time. with the amount of construction that had taken place upstairs, the additional wiring, the electrical panels and have this running upstairs was really unbelievable," Chief Bowman said.
Port Carbon Police believe the property owner didn't know about the operation. He rented the place out. Investigators are trying to determine who was tending to the marijuana farm. They believe an electrical malfunction in the equipment triggered the fire which forced the Staller family out of their home next door.