Crime

Bellingham man badly burned as drug lab explodes in home

Drug lab explodes in Bellingham house

A Bellingham, Washington man was severely burned in an explosion and fire at a 1150 Ellis St. triplex on Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. Police said small canisters of butane and 200 ounces of marijuana were found inside; they suspect a drug lab was in ope
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A Bellingham, Washington man was severely burned in an explosion and fire at a 1150 Ellis St. triplex on Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. Police said small canisters of butane and 200 ounces of marijuana were found inside; they suspect a drug lab was in ope

A Bellingham man was at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle on Tuesday, Oct. 18, suffering from severe burns in the wake of an explosion and fire at a house where police said the injured man was operating an illegal drug lab.

No one else was hurt in the blast about 8:10 p.m. Monday, Oct. 17, that did some $50,000 damage to the 2,000-square-foot triplex at 1150 Ellis St. on the border of the Sehome and York neighborhoods.

Bellingham Police did not release the man’s name. He had not been charged with a crime, even though evidence of a drug lab, including many small butane canisters and more than 200 ounces of marijuana, was found at the scene, said police Lt. Bob Vander Yacht.

“The man responsible for the explosion admitted to our officers that this was a hash oil extraction lab and that he does it to sell product to ‘people he knows,’ ” Vander Yacht said.

“Certainly the cause of the fire is the ignition of the gas vapor within the space that resulted in an explosion,” Vander Yacht said. “The energy from this was significant and shattered a couple of large windows in the structure as well as damaging some walls and ceilings.”

Bellingham Fire officials said the injured man was taken by ambulance to St. Joseph hospital, then flown by helicopter to Harborview. They could not disclose his name or the nature of his injuries, citing medical confidentiality laws. Harborview officials can’t disclose information without the patient’s full name.

Neighbors and other tenants knew him only as Jason, and said he lived in the upstairs unit, which was subdivided into apartments about 50 years ago.

The man responsible for the explosion admitted to our officers that this was a hash oil extraction lab and that he does it to sell product to people he knows.

Bellingham Police Lt. Bob Vander Yacht

Veronica Saibel, who lives in one of the lower two units, said burns and soot covered the man’s head, back, chest and arms.

“We heard this like loud kind of banging noise,” Saibel said. “I looked outside the window at our neighbor’s house and the whole side of their house was sort of lit up bright orange, and I knew that that was fire.”

Saibel said the blast blew out a window. Other tenants said small containers were blown through the ceiling into their apartments.

“I asked him if he was all right and then I realized, of course, that he was covered in burns,” Saibel said. “He said that something exploded.”

Battalion Chief Cary Gustafson of the Bellingham Fire Department consulted Whatcom County’s hazardous materials team before allowing firefighters inside the building to fight the flames that remained and make sure that fire hadn’t spread into the walls or attic.

“We made entry with some gas monitors to monitor the atmosphere to make sure our firefighters weren’t walking into an explosive atmosphere,” Gustafson said. Once the flames were out, firefighters found extensive blast damage in the kitchen, he said.

Kevin Geraghty, who manages the property for the owners, his parents, said all three units had passed inspection two weeks ago under the city’s new rental-inspection program and no evidence of drug activity was noted. City officials couldn’t be reached immediately for comment, and online records weren’t up to date.

Geraghty wouldn’t name his tenant, but said the man had two weeks’ notice of the inspection.

“Hopefully, the young man’s OK,” Geraghty said, adding that all three units had smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms and fire extinguishers.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

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