The Los Angeles Police and Fire Departments opened a criminal investigation into a massive explosion and fire that erupted inside a downtown LA vape warehouse, injuring a dozen firefighters, including two critically.

Firefighters were responding to what they thought was a routine building fire Saturday evening, May 16, when one of the responding firefighters noticed pressure, smoke, and heat from the rear of the building were increasing. Sensing something was wrong, he ordered everyone to get out of the building. The firefighters were exiting the building when the explosion occurred.

Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Erik Scott told KNX Radio that firefighters inside the building had to run through a wall of flames he estimated to be about 30 feet high and wide, while others on the roof scrambled down a ladder that was immersed in flames.

The initial explosion also scorched a fire truck across the street from the building, Capt. Scott said, according to the Associated Press.

Firefighters emerged from the flames with melted helmets and protective gear on fire. Twelve firefighters were taken to the hospital. Three were released on Sunday. Eight remain hospitalized, including two in critical but stable condition. One was treated and released Saturday night with minor injuries. All of the injured firefighters are expected to survive.

Capt. Scott said the explosion occurred in a warehouse for a company named SmokeTokes, a wholesale cannabis, vape, and tobacco accessory shop in downtown LA’s Toy District.

According to the AP, Capt. Scott said that the company was a supplier for the makers of “butane honey (or hash) oil,” which concentrates and extracts THC, the main psychoactive compound in weed, from cannabis to form hashish. The risk of explosion and fire is high in the process since butane is a highly explosive and volatile gas. A number of explosions and fires connected to the extraction process are reported across the country every year.

Three firefighters were released after spending the night in the hospital, fire department spokesman Nicholas Prange said Sunday. Of the eight that remained hospitalized, two were in critical but stable condition, he said. Officials initially announced that 11 firefighters were injured but Prange said a 12th was treated and released for a minor injury.

Sources told the AP that if the company was using butane to extract THC from cannabis, it would be illegal because the city doesn’t issue licenses for that type of operation in urban centers given the safety risks. Businesses that use butane to extract THC are usually restricted to operating in industrial areas, the AP reported, citing the Southern California Coalition.

“If they were doing volatile extraction with butane … they couldn’t be legal in the city of LA to do those types of activities,” Adam Spiker, Executive Director of Southern California Coalition, told the AP.

Although he didn’t know what SmokeTokes was doing in the building, he told the AP that the information he’s learned so far “puts up a lot of alarm bells.”

A similar fire occurred at Smoke Tokes in a nearby address in 2016, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department. It also took nearly 200 firefighters to extinguish that inferno. According to the AP, firefighters found that pressurized gas cylinders in the business that had exploded in the fire.

Premises Liability Law

Beasley Allen lawyers handle cases involving issues of premises liability and negligent security. Premises Liability is the responsibility a land or property owner has for accidents, injury or other incidents that occur on his real property. For more information about these types of cases, contact Parker Miller or Donovan Potter, lawyers in our Atlanta office.

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