Comox Valley RCMP confirm an explosive fire on the 2000 block of First Street in Courtenay Friday was criminal in nature, as police located equipment and evidence used in the production of hash oil.
The duplex went up in flames late Friday afternoon, following what neighbours describe as “three or four loud bangs” going off in the home.
Neighbour Bill Wright, who lives directly across the street from the fire, explained he was leaving Willemar Avenue heading home when he looked down the road and saw two “little things burning in the middle of the road.”
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“It ended up that they were pieces of articles of clothing that were still on fire. My wife said there were three people that jumped into a truck. She said she’ll never forget the screams that she heard.”
Const. Don Sinclair noted the three men – aged 25, 28 and 29 years old – are all from the Comox Valley and remain hospitalized in serious to critical condition. They were not previously known to police.
“This is a tragic reminder of the serious risks involved in the production of illegal drugs,” he added. “We cannot stress enough to anyone considering this sort of activity to think of the pain and anguish these three men and their families now face, and reconsider their plans.”
The men drove themselves to St. Joseph’s General Hospital in Comox. Two men were then airlifted Friday night to Victoria-area hospitals, and one man was airlifted overnight to a Vancouver-area hospital.
Police said no further details on their medical status will be released, to protect their privacy.
Witnesses at the scene Friday describe multiple explosions, and Melissa Thompson, who lives behind the home, placed a 9-1-1 call after the bangs, which knocked photos off her wall and shook her computer.
Courtenay Fire Chief Don Bardonnex said the residence caught fire quickly.
“The house went from nothing to most of the exterior of the house … and went up in a second,” he noted, and added both sides of the duplex sustained major damage.
While the fire is still under investigation, Sinclair explained Monday police are confident the three men were the only ones at the residence at the time, and the other half of the duplex was unoccupied.
“The residents of the building were not there at the time,” he noted, and added the investigation continues as to the relationship between the men and the residents.
Saturday, RCMP were granted a search warrant under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act, and Sinclair noted investigators found “a lot of debris in the backyard including multiple cylinders.”
He added the cylinders did contain butane, and the house is reported to be structurally unsound after the explosion and subsequent fire; it will require assessment for safety and re-habilitation.
Police will be conducting inquiries with the landlord to find out who rented the house, but Sinclair urged the public to step forward whenever they suspect any illegal activity in their neighbourhood.
“They call it clandestine labs for a reason – because they’re secret. Unless someone starts talking about them, or someone sees something and they call us, we don’t learn about them.”
Brief explanation of butane hash oil
Butane hash oil is not a new phenomenon, but it has gained popularity in recent years.
Simply put, BHO is a concentrated cannabis extract made by pushing liquid butane through a tube packed with marijuana buds.
When pushed through the tube, the liquid butane has a chemical reaction with the buds, dissolving them to produce a solution of cannabinoids, waxes, and oil.
The wax solution is then evaporated and what remains is a texture that varies from a glass-like form, to oil.
BHO can be called honey, erl, hash oil, honeycomb, honey toast, wax, shatter, glass, whip, comb, ‘tane, among other names.
One of the reasons for the increased popularity in BHO of late is that it can be discreetly smoked through vape pens (a sort of e-cigarette), for a near odourless high, as opposed to the pungent and easily identifiable smell that a typical marijuana joint produces.
Among the numerous BHO-related explosions and fires reported in North America, an 18-year-old Chilliwack man died while making hash oil in his bedroom, in 2009. The explosion left him with burns to 40 per cent of his body. He died two days after suffering the burns.
– With files from medicalmarijuana.com