One man was burned in an explosion inside an El Cajon warehouse that has been identified as an active hash oil extraction lab, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Smoke and flames were pouring from a second-story warehouse on El Cajon Boulevard near Hill Street when firefighters arrived at about 9:10 p.m. Thursday, the Heartland Fire Department said.
The warehouse is located along a busy road with retail businesses, restaurants, and auto body shops surrounding it.
Crews forced their way in and fought flames for about 15 minutes, HFD Chief Mike Chasin said. Once the fire was out, crews noticed chemicals in the building.
At about the same time, medics were called to a Walmart store less than two miles away where a man was found with burn injuries.
The man's connection to the warehouse fire was not known, but suspicions were raised and arson investigators were called to the scene.
Hours later a DEA spokesperson confirmed what fire officials had suspected - inside the building was an active hash oil extraction lab.
"Marijuana, laboratory equipment, and approximately a dozen 55-gallon drums containing a volatile solvent (Hexane) were located inside the building," said Kameron Korte.
The DEA described Hexane as highly flammable and said its vapors can be explosive. "A mere spark of static electricity can ignite an entire room," a DEA press release said.
The fire caused about $100,000 worth of damage to the building and its contents, Chasin said.
HFD said there were two other fires at a nearby abandoned Mercedez-Benz dealership within the last week. Chasin said law enforcement has had issues with homeless people breaking into the lot.
According to the DEA, 19 hash oil extraction labs have been discovered so far in 2019. There were 31 found in 2018 and 27 in 2017.
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