Marijuana lab leads to explosion; windows blown out

By From page A13 | December 28, 2012

Glass shards litter the parking area for 3137 Goldner Rd. The residence, placed on a hill, features two studio apartments, stacked on top of each other. All the windows of the top floor are boarded up, with a single window on the bottom floor also boarded. The balcony of the first floor, above the parking area, also features chunks of glass.

Walking in the door to the second floor apartment, it is obvious something horribly wrong has happened. Bits of greenery and plaster and other small detritus decorate the floor. A table with a tall beer can and a bare mattress are all the items of substance that remain in the main part of the studio, save for broken window blinds from a window that was partially broken out. What once held a second window is now just a board and a partially-melted window blind. Melted plastic hangs off of what was once a smoke detector. The entire roof has been moved about two inches, as evident from the moulding that once connected ceiling and wall.

On Dec. 20, an explosion was reported from a neighbor, said Mike Pott of El Dorado County Fire. When crews responded, they found a “flash fire” had taken place.

Landlord and local bail bondsman Chuck Holland said the crews had no need for water; the explosion was simply a fireball and pressure, with nothing actually catching fire. “It was just a flash. That’s how hot it was,” Holland said.

In the kitchen, where the explosion originated Holland said, the downstairs tenant, who was not home at the time, was examining the damage with the light. The walls were charred black. Plastic from cabinets is melted off. All that remains of a coffee machine is melted plastic and the still-intact coffee pot. The 20-something, who wished to remain unnamed, laughed and said he was glad he was not at home, as he could have been hurt in blast.

The explosion was, however, not without victims. Two burn victims were found by County Fire, Pott said, though one refused treatment. The other was taken to the UC Davis Burn Unit. Holland’s understanding was that he was released from the ICU on Dec. 23.

“It looked like he had second- and third-degree burns on his left side, where skin was peeling off,” Holland recalled. The landlord also said that it was not the tenant, who was reportedly at a store when the explosion happened, but a friend and the friend’s girlfriend who were caught in the blast. The man who was injured “blew into the toilet, but I don’t know if he was blown forward or backward,” Holland said.

Although Pott was unable to give further information, Holland was forthcoming in what he believed caused the blast — a “marijuana lab.” He said that, using a PVC pipe, marijuana and butane, the victim was attempting to create “honey oil” or what essentially amounts to sweet hash oil. However, the process makes a rudimentary pipe bomb, which, given access to an open flame such as a cigarette or stove, will explode. A length of PVC pipe was near the parking area. Holland believed it to be the extra pipe not used.

Holland noted that Placerville Police Department hauled two truckloads of evidence away, including a marijuana grow from the closet. He said the tenant, who he did not name, was arrested and taken away by PPD on charges of cultivating marijuana.

The damage, Holland said, was quoted by insurance companies to be in excess of $25,000. He lamented the newly-replaced wood floor and the just-painted walls. The entire roof will have to be replaced, as well, he said.

As PPD was not holding office hours the week of Dec. 24, they were unavailable for comment on the case.

Cole Mayer

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