DANA POINT – A 31-year-old man suffered severe burns Tuesday when propane tanks exploded in the garage of a home in Dana Point.
Orange County Sheriff’s Department officials Tuesday afternoon said their preliminary investigation indicates that the garage where the fire broke out is believed to have been home to a drug-extraction lab.
Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi said the fire was reported about noon in the 26000 block of Vista del Mar near Calle Maria.
“There was an incredible boom, which rattled the windows … and set off car alarms in the neighborhood,” said Kathleen Broussard, who was across the street when the explosion occurred.
When Broussard went outside, she said she saw a huge plume of smoke and a man badly burned.
“His skin was burned, and it was peeling off his arms and legs,” Broussard said.
The man was taken to the Orange County Burn Center at Western Medical Center in Santa Ana in serious condition, Concialdi said.
Moments earlier, neighbor Mark Phelps ran into the burning home and found the man on fire. He said he got him out of the house and pulled off some burning clothes.
“I thought he was in the living room when I got in, he was walking through … flames,” Phelps said.
Another neighbor was on the phone in her house when she felt her house shake.
“I wasn’t sure what it was,” Linda Schock said. “The whole house shook, and it blew off the curtains to my kitchen windows, balls of fire were being thrown everywhere.”
Authorities say Ron Sanchez, a retired OCFA captain who lives nearby, arrived at the home before the fire crews and made sure everyone was out of the nearby apartment complex. Concialdi said Sanchez’s actions saved the fire crews time and allowed them to focus on controlling the flames rather than searching or evacuating the nearby residences.
The fire spread to several structures, including a studio apartment, a condominium complex and an apartment complex. The explosion also caused a garage door to blow out and several windows were shattered, Concialdi said.
“These apartments are close together, and there were trees in between the house and the trees caught fire,” Concialdi said.
The fire was under control at 12:54 p.m. with the help of about 60 firefighters, Concialdi said.
Authorities said butane gas and propane tanks were found in the garage. Fire officials initially indicated that the family had a catering business. However, Sheriff’s Department officials later reported finding marijuana and other “evidence” pointing toward a lab design to extract THC. They were awaiting a search warrant Tuesday afternoon to search the residence further.
Typically, a THC-extraction lab allows for concentrated cannibis oil, also known as hash oil, to be extracted from marijuana by processing butane through the cannabis in a pressurized tube. The “higher-concentrate” oil is then processed by a heat source or evaporation into a somewhat solid final product.
The do-it-yourself drug is gaining popularity because marijuana has about 15 percent THC, the main intoxicant in marijuana, and hash oil has a THC rating of 30 percent to 80 percent.
The Sheriff’s Department bomb squad has been called to investigate more than half a dozen THC-related explosions throughout Orange County in the past 18 months.
A family of five, including a man and woman and their three children, live at the home. Concialdi said a brother of one of the adults was at the home when the fire broke out and was the man who was injured.
The American Red Cross is assisting five families. Due to the explosions at the home, a bomb squad and hazardous-materials team were called to the area, as authorities prepared to stay at the home until well into Tuesday night.
By DENISSE SALAZAR, JOSH FRANCIS and SEAN EMERY / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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