A fire in a Northern California Apartment building left an 18-year-old in critical condition with severe burns and 10 residents homeless on Tuesday night. The apartment building was left completely charred and firefighters are blaming a BHO extraction kit that they found as the reason the fire got out of control, but say it is too early to tell if it was the cause of the fire that devastated the building, which did about $500,000 dollars in damage and will take about four to six months before residents can move back in.
Firefighters were called to the scene on Tuesday night around 7pm. At that point, the fire was coming from a second story apartment building. They immediately took an 18-year-old with serious burns covering about 60 percent of his body away by helicopter to a burn unit along with a female who suffered from inhalation burns. The unidentified 18-year-old is currently in critical condition.
But it is what they found on their initial entry to battle the blaze that caused firefighters to pull out and call for a warrant and the Humboldt County Bomb Squad. The firefighters had mis-identified a plastic pipe in the apartment with a cap on each end and holes drilled in it as a possible pipe bomb. Firefighters found the device inside a bedroom closet in the apartment where the fire originated.
The bomb squad showed up with a robot to retrieve the item. Bomb technicians took three hours to remove the suspicious device before they deemed it posed no threat and the firefighters could go back inside the building to extinguish the last of the blaze. They had been using long hoses, and had punched some holes in the building to try and fight the fire while the bomb technicians did their job.
Over 70 percent of the fire was due to the delay of the firefighters not being able to enter the building as the fire from the apartment caught the attic on fire, then spread to other parts of the building.
Fire Chief Investigator Todd Wilcox said that the steps to get a warrant before the bomb squad had entered the apartment were necessary so that anything they found could be used as evidence in a potential prosecution. He added that they had to tread carefully, if they had found a body in the building it would have been a homicide investigation.
Fire investigators don’t think the hashish extractor is the source of the actual fire, since the device was still intact when the bomb technician removed it. Firefighters did find butane canisters in the apartment, a possible source for ignition of the original fire, and residents reported hearing an explosion before seeing flames and smoke. One resident thinks it could have been a faulty water heater. The investigation is underway into the cause of that fire. Investigators have also forwarded that they found a possible hash making operation to the Humboldt County District Attorney for possible criminal charges.