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Commerce explosion, fire caused by home drug lab; 2 burned

Investigators say an explosion and fire in Commerce on Wednesday were caused by a home drug lab. Two men were injured.
March 20, 2014 8:29:33 AM PDT
Investigators say an explosion and fire in Commerce on Wednesday were caused by a home drug lab. Two men were critically injured.

Authorities responded to a report of a tree or transformer on fire in the 2300 block of Ayers Avenue at about 8:15 p.m. Firefighters arrived at the scene and reported hearing several explosions. They were pulled back from the structure, and the fire was allowed to burn.

Flames were knocked down at the rear of the location about 45 minutes later. Two men, ages 18 and 21, were taken to a local hospital for burn-related injuries.

According to the preliminary investigation, a hash oil extraction laboratory was set up, where marijuana is turned into hash oil or "honey oil." Several butane bottles were found inside the home, and investigators believe one of the bottles may have exploded.

The two suspects, crippled by their injuries, were still running for two and a half blocks, according to witnesses.

"Their shoes were like melted on. They couldn't even take off their shoes because they were melted onto their feet," said witness Derick Salinas.

The blast calls attention to a growing problem in Southern California neighborhoods.

"We are seeing a large influx of these labs. They're easy to do," said Detective Frank Lyga with the Los Angeles Impact Crime Lab Task Force.

Lyga says this is the fourth hash oil lab he has seen in the last week; two of the four exploded. "How-to" videos that pop up on YouTube don't show you the hazards. Making hash oil is illegal, but in a catch 22, the drug can legally be sold at medical marijuana dispensaries.

"They sell it for $45 a gram in dispensaries and $100 a gram on the street," said Lyga.

That pushes a growing market. Lyga says there was evidence that the two suspects planned to sell to a commercial operation. Detectives found dispensary labels at the scene.

The damage to the home was estimated at $300,000. The two men are expected to face narcotics-related charges.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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