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

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.”

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