Crime - Sacto 911

Three hurt in explosion, fire at drug lab in Butte County

Three people, including two teenage boys, suffered major burns in an explosion and fire at a lab producing butane honey oil in the Oroville area Sunday.

Butte County sheriff’s deputies and crews from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection responded about 10 a.m. to a report of a fire with an explosion in the 1500 block of Seventh Street. They arrived to find three people with major burns outside the burning structure.

Cal Fire and sheriff’s investigators determined that the fire was caused by the manufacturing of butane honey oil, a highly concentrated form of marijuana, and detectives with the Sheriff’s Office’s special enforcement unit were called to take over the investigation, according to a sheriff’s news release.

Ignition of butane vapors caused a shock wave that preceded the fire, resulting in major damage to the home. Sheriff’s officials said walls were moved off their foundations and windows were blown out. Investigators found several butane canisters around the explosion site, some as far as 200 feet away.

Detectives got a search warrant for the property and located evidence of marijuana cultivation, including a large amount of marijuana in plastic tubs. Several firearms also were found at the scene, along with vials of illegal steroids, sheriff’s officials said.

The property owner, 30-year-old Brandon Qassem, suffered burns and was taken to a hospital outside the area. Two boys, ages 13 and 15, were with Qassem and were in critical but stable condition. The teenagers were visiting Qassem during the Thanksgiving holiday and are from out of the area, sheriff’s officials said.

The investigation is continuing, and sheriff’s officials said they will pursue criminal charges against Qassem when he recovers from his injuries.

Detectives stress that that the manufacture of butane honey oil is illegal and extremely dangerous due to flammability of the butane and the explosive nature of butane vapors in enclosed areas. Anyone who suspects a butane honey oil lab can call the sheriff’s special enforcement unit at (530) 538-7389. Callers can remain anonymous.

Call The Bee’s Cathy Locke, (916) 321-5287.