Three young men were hospitalized Sunday with critical burns that they suffered when an explosion triggered a fire at a Monrovia home where butane was being used to extract the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana in an effort to produce even more potent pot, police said.
The fire broke out in a home in the 200 block of East Walnut Avenue around 5 a.m. Sunday, and the house soon was fully involved, said Monrovia police Sgt. Nick Manfredi. Three men in their 20s suffered critical burns and were receiving treatment in hospital burn units, he said, adding that a man and a woman in another part of the house who claimed they didn't know about the marijuana operation escaped uninjured.
The fire was touched off by the blast, which "lifted the ceiling off the room" where a process was under way to extract tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive element of the cannabis plant.
"We believe the burn victims were using butane to make Butane Honey Oil extract, the THC from marijuana plants," Manfredi said. "The purpose of the process is to make a more concentrated form of marijuana."
But like in other processes to make illegal drugs more potent, danger abounds.
"The real danger is the butane. It's very flammable if there's any open flame like a candle or pilot light," Manfredi said. "Any open flame in the immediate area can cause an explosion."
People who try to extract THC in their homes generally are "not chemists. They have no formal training. They are not in the right environment," he said. "They experiment with a very dangerous routine."
There are red flags for observant neighbors, Manfredi said.
"Cans of butane in mass quantities discarded in Dumpsters, unusual chemical odors and activities late at night," to name a few, he said.
The explosion and fire was the first incident of its type in Monrovia but not a first in Los Angeles County, Manfredi said. Last week, a man was hospitalized with burns, then arrested after the propane tank he was using to extract THC from marijuana plants exploded in Reseda, according to news reports.