Marijuana-Related Explosions Are a Nationwide Issue

By Keri Blakinger 10/04/16

Last year, more than 30 people in Colorado were injured from butane explosion related to hash oil, a form of concentrated marijuana extract. 

Marijuana-Related Explosions Are a Nationwide Issue
Outside the Bronx home explosion Photo via YouTube

The marijuana grow house that exploded and killed a firefighter in New York last month seemed like a tragic anomaly—but, as it turns out, indoor pot farms and other production processes are a routinely risky proposition. 

The Bronx blast killed FDNY Deputy Chief Michael Fahy last Tuesday after he was hit by falling debris, the New York Daily News reported. Afterward, prosecutors alleged that a gas leak caused by the growers’ meddling was what sparked the fiery burst.

“All of the early indications seem to indicate that the reason that the gas leak caused the explosion to the extent that it did was because of the manipulation and construction of this grow house, which included heat sources, fuel sources, flammable liquids, and insulation,” Bronx prosecutor Christine Scaccia said in court. 

Indoor marijuana farms sometimes use carbon dioxide generators powered by natural gas, propane or butane help plants grow better, according to the Associated Press

"If you raise the CO2 level, it'll grow faster,” explained Michael O’Hare, a UC Berkeley professor who specializes in cannabis cultivation. As a result, gas-powered generators are “a standard way to grow marijuana.”

Even so, it’s hard to say exactly how many such labs exist because marijuana isn’t legal in about half of the United States.

Before the deadly explosion on West 234th Street, neighbors said they noticed the smell of gas in the area. And the home, which had already been under investigation for drug activity, was packed with combustibles like grow lamps and liquid fertilizer vats. The windows were sealed and parts of the residence were coated with insulation to help keep in the heat. Those factors combined to create an unsafe growhouse that sparked the early morning tragedy last week, injuring 20.

Last year, more than 30 people in Colorado were injured from butane explosions related to hash oil, a form of concentrated marijuana extract. 

In New Mexico, two workers were injured after a butane leak ignited inside a Santa Fe dispensary.

To the north in Washington state, prosecutors have charged suspects in five cases where explosion were linked to hash oil production. In one case, a former mayor died trying to escape the inferno. 

In light of the spread of the dangerous production practice, last year officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) warned wannabe oil-makers about the dangers of the production process.

"I don't think they realize it's unsafe," Billy Magalassi, chief of the ATF's fire investigation and arson enforcement division, told USA Today last year. "Kids are curious but they're dealing with things that are very dangerous."

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.