updated 4/17/2006 5:08:23 PM ET 2006-04-17T21:08:23

Firefighters dousing a fire in a new home were confused when the man they thought was the owner suddenly left — until they found $700,000 worth of marijuana plants in the basement, officials said.

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"It seemed so strange to me" that the man left, said Wadsworth Fire Chief Ralph Copley. "If it were my home burning, I'd want to be there."

After firefighters extinguished the fire, which started in the attic early Friday morning, they found 239 marijuana plants filling one-fourth of the basement, which was wired throughout for indoor plant growing, authorities said.

"It was unreal," Copley said. "In 24 years, I've never seen a fire quite like that."

Investigators from the task force and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency were still trying to find the two people who left the house.

The Medina County Drug Task Force and firefighters on Friday confiscated items from the home, including peat moss, 1,000-watt bulbs and large reflecting discs. The basement had no fire damage.

The marijuana-cultivating system was wired to the home's electrical system in a way that bypassed the meter, said Michael Barnhardt, acting director of the task force. Such wiring would help a grower avoid the large electric bills that clue in investigators, he said.

Copley said the cause of the fire was unknown, but it did not appear to be related to the marijuana operation or electrical wiring. It caused about $150,000 in damage.

The home, bought for $229,000 less than one month ago, is owned by a Lan Le. There is no telephone listing under that name in the northeast Ohio city 30 miles south of Cleveland.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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