Drug lab explodes in Bellingham house
Jason Patrick Jaques, the man who was injured in an explosion at an illegal drug lab in a Bellingham home this week, was reported in satisfactory condition in the intensive care unit of Harborview Medical Center on Wednesday, Oct. 19.
Although hospital officials could not discuss the nature of his injuries, witnesses at the scene Monday night, Oct. 17, said Jaques was burned on his chest, back and arms by the blast, which heavily damaged the home at 1150 Ellis St. on the boundary of the Sehome and York neighborhoods.
Police said Jaques, 24, had been using butane to extract hash oil from marijuana plants when the highly flammable vapor ignited with explosive force, blowing out windows and propelling hair spray-sized butane canisters through the walls and ceiling. The blast and resulting fire heavily damaged the second-floor unit where Jaques lived and displaced the four residents in two downstairs units.
It spills over the edge of the container, and spills over the edge without you knowing, and then, boom!”
Mitch Nolze, Whatcom County fire inspector
Police found some 200 ounces of marijuana in his apartment.
On his Facebook page, Jaques lists his employer as Mt. Baker Gardens, a legal marijuana grower north of Bellingham. Owner Ryan Moore said he was shocked to learn about the incident but wasn’t surprised, saying Jaques, a part-time trimmer, had expressed interest in learning about the extraction process.
“Jason has one of the coolest personalities. He’s a great guy, laid-back, easy-going,” Moore said Wednesday. “Surprised for sure. He loves cannabis and showed an interest in extractions. I’m surprised that he had his own thing going on.”
Moore said Mt. Baker Gardens is a startup that produces only the “flower,” but that he hopes to expand into the lucrative hash oil market. The oil, which can be eaten, smoked, or vaped, offers a more intense high. Although Moore and other licensed operators can produce hash oil legally under Washington state’s new marijuana laws, fire safety officials are beginning to see a rise in the number of explosions, fires and injuries linked to illegal home labs.
Butane can’t be seen or smelled, is heavier than air, and is volatile enough to be ignited by residual warmth on a stove, said Mitch Nolze, a Whatcom County fire inspector.
“It spills over the edge of the container, and spills over the edge without you knowing, and then, boom!” Nolze said. He said home “cooks” work in secret and without proper ventilation and other safety precautions.
“It’s still the upcoming thing. There’s not a lot of data,” Nolze said. He could recall no such explosions in Whatcom County in the past five years, but noted that Skagit County has seen a handful of them.
In Colorado, a 2015 Associated Press report said at least 30 people were injured in 2014 in 32 butane explosions involving hash oil – nearly three times the number reported in 2013, according to officials with the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a state-federal enforcement program.
Meanwhile, Ellis Street property manager Kevin Geraghty said his four other tenants are staying with friends for several days while an insurance payment and repairs are arranged. The upstairs will require several months to fix, because it sustained extensive smoke, heat and blast damage, Geraghty said.
“He’s a good kid, he just made some bad choices,” Geraghty said. “I just hope he’s OK. The property can be fixed.”
Jim Tinner, building official for the city of Bellingham, said an inspector noticed no sign of drug activity when the three units were checked about two weeks ago under the city’s new rental inspection program. But he said inspectors look for safety violations and don’t search renters’ personal effects or check closets and cupboards unless an electrical panel or water heater is inside.
“We operate under the ‘plain view doctrine,’ like the police do,” Tinner said. “We don’t open up closet doors, that would be an invasion of privacy.”