One Dead in Fire at Los Angeles ‘Clandestine’ Cannabis Extraction Lab

One person died and another was transported to the hospital in critical condition following a fire at a suspected illicit cannabis extraction lab in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles
Courtesy OnScene via LA Times

One person was killed on Saturday morning and another is in critical condition after an explosion at a Los Angeles commercial building that housed what authorities say was a “clandestine” cannabis extraction operation. The fire and death, which occurred at a one-story commercial building in the Green Meadows neighborhood of L.A., is now being investigated by the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Fire Department, according to multiple reports. 

The LAFD responded to the fire after a 911 call to report the blaze was made at 1:17 a.m. on Saturday. As first responders arrived at the scene, heavy fire was visible at the seemingly vacant commercial building, and several small explosions could be heard within the structure, the LAFD reported on Saturday.

The first firefighters to arrive on the scene forced entry onto the property and into a portion of the well-secured building to begin an offensive attack on the fire. The firefighters retreated, however, after facing “ever-increasing flames, a series of additional explosions, the presence of unknown chemicals and physical compromise of the structure, that rendered it untenable,” including a collapsed roof.

The firefighters then transitioned to a defensive posture, using multiple hose streams of water from aerial ladders. As firefighters battled the blaze, a woman approached the command post that had been set up and reported her belief that a man was still inside the building that was at that point “largely consumed by flames.”

“It took 113 LAFD responders under the command of Assistant Chief Douglas Lewis, 75 minutes to fully extinguish the inferno, confining fire damage to the structure of origin,” the LAFD noted.

Deceased Person Found In Aftermath of Fire

While searching the scene, fire department personnel discovered the body of what appeared to be an adult male deep within the smoldering remains of the building. Authorities also found a large volume of cannabis products, processing machinery, chemicals and pressurized gas cylinders. 

A positive identification of the deceased person and the time and the cause of death are to be determined by the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner. The cause of the fire and circumstances surrounding the incident are being investigated by the LAFD and the LAPD.

Although fired department officials originally reported no additional injuries as a result of the fire, LAPD Spokesperson Officer Jader Chaves said that a second person was transported to an area hospital in critical condition, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times. The nature and cause of the person’s injuries were not known, however.

‘Clandestine Lab’ Found 

Chavez added that the operation housed by the building is being investigated as an “illegal butane honey oil clandestine lab.” Many cannabis operators use butane, propane or other hydrocarbons held by containers like those found in the burned-out building to produce cannabis extractions commonly known as butane hash oil, butane honey oil or BHO. The process can be hazardous if not executed carefully, and explosions and fires at such cannabis labs have occurred many times.

Although cannabis is legal in California for both recreational and medicinal purposes, the state has a pervasive and thriving unlicensed marijuana production and processing economy. Authorities investigating Saturday’s fire believed the Green Meadows cannabis operation was part of this gray market.

“We can’t say for sure because we don’t know exactly what permits they had…but we did not see any placarding from the outside that would indicate that this was a cannabis operation, which they should have had,” said LAFD Captain Adam Van Gerpen, according to a report on local television news. “There are multiple different types of chemicals that they use to do this and some of them could be explosive…and have deadly results.”

    Seriously though, how the hell are people still blowing themselves up with butane?
    A 30 second net search shows the danger of ‘open blasting’ and the simplest understanding of fuel/oxygen combustion tells you that it could be done safely with adequate ventilation/dispersal of the gas; in fact probably the safest way to do it on a large scale (aside from buying a closed extractor) would be to actually intentionally incorporate a flame (as opposed to trying to avoid all flame & sparks) into a decent (but still cheap) fan extraction ventilation system drawing from the lowest point in the room; that way as long as the fan is AFTER the flame (fans usually produce sparks) the butane will be safely combusted before exiting the building. If that is NOT done even if all flame/sparks have beeen removed in the building the exhausted butane could still ignite from an ignition point external to the building.
    I can say one thing’s for sure: the poor ignorant ‘half-baked’ (LOL) surviving hash-oil-king wannabe is going to face a prison sentence along with his/her permanent scars.

  2. It’s easy to think of this as some doofus in his kitchen with butane as seen on youtube but this was not some small time garbage operation. This was an actual LAB as in LAB GRADE EQUIPMENT. They didn’t follow procedure and the equipment failed. All it takes is one faulty gasket etc and BOOM no more lab.

  3. OK, so these guys were apparently using a safer sealed/recycling system rather than ‘open blasting’, in which case it should have had multiple (dirt cheap) pressure gauges as well as those they should’ve also been using a (dirt cheap) digital hydrocarbon monitor/alarm and finally they should also have had the building evacuated with a (dirt cheap) fan ventilation system for added safety. In the end if you’ve got the money ($30,000 or so) to spend on a decent sealed extraction system you should also be willing to spend only a few hundred more on a few different safety devices.
    It only takes one explosion to ruin your day or end your life.

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