Explosion, fire destroy Gilpin home

house fully engulfed     Barbara Lawlor, Gilpin County. Quick action by a neighbor saved a Gilpin County man when his home erupted in flames Sunday morning. Ryan Erickson was inside his Chalet Drive home when he heard a few loud pops. He went outside and saw black smoke spewing from the chimney of the Leland Baker’s house across the street.

“I ran down the driveway yelling to see if anyone was in the house. I saw a man draped over a broken out basement window and he called out, ‘I’m over here.’ I grabbed a dog bed and threw it over the window and then grabbed the guy under his arms and pulled him through the window.”

    firefighter with hoses

Another neighbor came to help carry Baker away from the house, over the dog fence and up to the road. Within seconds, flames exploded out of the front door and the roof collapsed, sending a huge black cloud of smoke roiling over the neighborhood.

Erickson said Baker’s hands were badly burned and his hair was gone. “He said he couldn’t get out of the house by himself.”

Gilpin Ambulance and EMTs arrived and attended to the victim’s burns. One of Baker’s dogs, Niko, was found outside of the house, his fur and nose burned. Gilpin County deputy Lee Ramsey, who was off duty at the time, transported the dog to the Nederland Veterinary Hospital.

loading the porto potty

Dr. Joe Evans says that Nike will be okay but it would have been a different story had not the deputy rushed to the clinic when he did. “Niko’s lungs were already filling with fluid,” says Dr. Evans. The body of the other dog was discovered later inside the house.

   tender

When the mutual aid call for help went out, engines and tenders from Central City, Black Hawk, Nederland, and Timberline responded. About 25 firefighters were on the scene. A complex system of water delivery was set up on the narrow road with port-o-ponds and hoses bringing the water close to the house.

When firefighters arrived the building was fully engulfed in flames. A rapid attack knocked down the fire and kept it from spreading to the trees that surrounded the house. At least three motorcycles and a couple of vehicles were destroyed in the blaze.

According to the Gilpin County Sheriff’s Office, it was confirmed that Baker was doing a butane hash oil extraction when the explosion occurred

Since the legalization of marijuana there has been a rise in devastating explosions and deep burn injuries to pot users trying to produce hash oil in crude, unsafe laboratories. In 2014, in the first five months of legalization, 10 people were treated at the state’s certified adult burn center from injuries sustained while making hash oil. That is the same number of injuries that occurred in all of 2013.

    skeleton of roof

The hash oil labs resemble the meth labs of the 90s, say law enforcement officers who have been dealing with the burgeoning problem. Officers and fire officials are looking into the dubious legality of the hash oil-producing process. While some of those who have caused fires resulting in damages to a rented home have been charged with a misdemeanor, other cases have resulted in hash oil production being protected under a new legal pot law.

In other words, it is probably legal to make hash oil in one’s own home as long as the process doesn’t result in damage to anyone else’s property or body. Last year a man who started a butane-caused fire in a Nederland home was charged with fourth-degree arson.

Hash oil is made by taking the leftover leaves and stems of a potent marijuana plant and packing them into a pipe. Butane oil is poured over the leaves and the mixture is heated to extract the oil, the THC, from the leaves and stems.  The resulting oil can be up to 80 percent THC and it is said that one or two drops produces as much of a high as large joint.

If the room in which the process takes place is not properly vented, butane fumes can build up and ignite from any spark source, even static electricity. Statewide, firefighters had responded to at least 30 butane/hash oil explosions by May, and there were probably many others not reported.ian

The one common item in all the explosions was the number of butane bottles left on the premises. When they are consumed by the fire they explode with loud pops that sound like gunfire.

Colorado marijuana laws allow businesses to make hash oil, but with strict rules. Adults over 21 can grow six plants at home and can brew their own oil, as long as it does not explode and cause damage to property or person. The doctors who have treated patients who have been burned by a butane/hash oil fire, says the burns are usually deep and painful and require surgery.

It seems as though the $3,500 estimated profit from one pot plant is worth the risk to many growers who have a do-it-yourself setup in the house. Nederland Fire Protection District fire chief Rick Dirr says, “If you are going to try and make hash oil, do it outside.”

Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.