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Basement Fire Leads To Multi-Million Dollar Drug Operation Inside Paterson Home, Police Say

PATERSON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- A small fire led police to a multi-million dollar drug operation in the basement of a home early Thursday morning in Paterson, New Jersey, officials say.

Police initially said it appeared to be a cocaine processing operation, but later turned out to be K2, a synthetic drug also known as "bath salts."

"Clearly a drug manufacturing plant from the early stage, which is dangerous because of explosion," Public Safety Director Jerry Speziale said. "The only stage earlier is picking the leaves off the plant."

"Imagine the amount being sold on the street, and then people taking that and hallucinating from it. It's extremely dangerous.

The fire broke out around 1:30 a.m. inside a home on Illinois Avenue.

A hazmat team responded to the scene, along with a Mass Care response unit, and neighbors said they saw a bomb squad.

"We just heard a loud bang," one resident told Dias. "We literately just came out of the house and we were just told to step back."

Four firefighters were taken to area hospitals after inhaling acetone. They're expected to be OK.

CBS2's John Dias reported at least a dozen people live inside the house, which is yards away from a school.

"It was being done in the dark, in a dungeon - it was a drug dungeon," Mayor Andre Sayegh said. "Looks like a large scale operation here in such a small house, and in a working class neighborhood. It's sad."

Residents and neighbors said they had no idea what was going on in the basement.

"In this neighborhood, I'm a little shocked," one man said.

The Red Cross said it's helping 11 people from two families with temporary lodging, food and clothing.

Police are still trying to figure out who was operating the plant, saying the investigation is extremely active and they have yet to make any arrests.

Authorities say they are working with the building owner to find out who was renting out the basement unit.

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