North Auburn apartment explosion believed drug-lab-related

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A chemical explosion rocked a North Auburn apartment complex Tuesday and investigators now say it was caused by a possible clandestine hashish lab in a bathroom. Four people who had been in the Auburn Court Apartments unit where the explosion took place were taken to hospital with burns, said Lt. Jeffrey Ausnow of the Placer County Sheriff’s Department. Another man, who went into the Gateway Court apartment to rescue a dog, suffered smoke inhalation. Nearby residents of the complex, located next to Rock Creek Plaza at Highway 49 and Bell Road, described the explosion as a sound similar to a car ramming into a building. The apartment occupants, who have not been identified, quickly exited the building as sprinklers and alarms began to go off. “It was scary,” said Dianna Rymer, a nearby resident. “People were screaming and crying like chickens with their heads cut off.” Rymer’s brother, Donald, went into the apartment to try to save a dog that was still inside. He went in twice. Firefighters eventually came out with the dog. “He said it wasn’t smoke inside but some kind of chemical that he’d never smelled before in his whole life,” Rymer said. Donald Rymer was taken to hospital after coughing and vomiting but voluntarily left. “My brother said they were treating him at the hospital like a criminal,” his sister said. Ausnow said the call came in at about 9 p.m. as a report of an explosion. Firefighters from Cal Fire were soon on the scene and the fire damage was contained to the bathroom of the two-bedroom top-floor unit. The Sheriff’s Department and the California Department of Justice responded to investigate a possible clandestine laboratory that was suspected to be the cause of the explosion and resulting fire, Ausnow said. “Investigators determined that the explosion was caused by flammable fumes which were produced by the occupants as they tried to create concentrated cannabis – or hashish – from marijuana,” Ausnow said. The chemical that caused the explosion could possibly have been butane and the source that sparked the explosion could have been a bathroom fan, he said. The four occupants’ burns were not life-threatening, Ausnow said. Two of the injured were transferred to the UC Davis burn unit for further care. Brett Rymer, an Auburn Court Apartments resident who grabbed a fire extinguisher to help in the emergency, said he saw the aftermath of the explosion, including bathroom towels that had been burned up, a broken bathroom door and walls that had been shifted off their base by the force of the blast. The investigation was ongoing Wednesday but Ausnow said he could confirm that felony charges will be filed against those responsible. Ausnow said charges would allege they manufactured or processed a controlled substance. Neighbors were jolted by the explosion. Edward Helms said he heard the alarm bells from the Rock Creek Center and rushed back to see a large crowd gathered. “I hear the people talking about rumors that they were making hash oil in there but I wasn’t aware they were doing that,” he said. “I guess that’s why they get away with it.” “You just don’t know what your neighbors are doing these days,” said Suzie Helms, another resident of the complex. “It’s kind of freaky.” Antoinette Fulkerson, a Port Angeles, Wash. resident, was helping her son and daughter-in-law move out of their water-damaged apartment Wednesday morning. It’s next to the unit the explosion took place in. Fulkerson said she was next door when the explosion occurred and it terrified her. “It could have been a lot worse. All the disabled people around here were terrified but at least the people in the apartment are alive,” Fulkerson said. “Maybe now they’ll wake up.”