Monday’s devastating fire at a former Surrey grow-op is a sign Canada’s medical marijuana industry urgently needs to change, according to a local fire chief.

The blaze tore through an 84,000-square-foot barn that had been leased by men with four medical marijuana licenses, allowing them to grow about 550 plants.

The property owner said the tenants threatened him when he tried raising the rent, and hastily moved their equipment out in the days leading up to the fire.

Surrey Fire Chief Len Garris said the situation is “certainly suspicious.”

“The individuals who were leasing the property left quickly on the same morning the fire occurred,” he said.

Garris was eager to welcome new federal rules scheduled to take effect April 1 that would see all home pot growing banned in favour of mass-production by a handful of commercial producers.

A last-minute injunction on March 21 delayed the home growing prohibition, however.

“We were looking forward to seeing them move out of our residential environment,” Garris said.

Ottawa said the new regulations were a response to community fears about grow-op hazards such as mould, fires and criminal involvement, but the medical pot users challenging the rules in court insist those concerns are overblown.

“There are people driving here drunk and it’s very destructive,” said pot activist Jason Wilcox. “We don’t pull all the cars off the road. And on a lesser scale that’s what the government tried to do to medical patients.”

Wilcox admitted there is anecdotal evidence of medical marijuana growers selling to criminals, but said they’re isolated incidents.

There are more than 1,100 Surrey addresses associated with medical marijuana grows, and the fire department believes a large quantity present public safety risks.

“Three hundred were inspected by electrical staff [who] found that 97 per cent of those had electrical violations in one form or another,” Garris said.

The federal government is appealing the court injunction.

With a report from CTV Vancouver’s Shannon Paterson