‘Hash oil’ cook sets home ablaze

And then, a fire truck looses its front wheel while racing through Lents Town Center to get to this blaze! Learn more all about both stories, here …

Firefighters work to extinguish a blaze officials say they believe occurred when a “cook” was trying to distill marijuana into more potent “hash oil”. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

By David F. Ashton
It might have been a typical house fire to which Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) responded on February 27, just before 11:00 a.m. – but it wasn’t. There was something explosive and illegal going on in the basement.

As nearby PF&R firefighters from Woodstock Station 25 rushed to the house on fire at 8109 SE Lambert Street, they radioed their dispatcher that they were seeing a thick column of smoke corresponding to that location.

A neighbor pointed out to arriving firefighters the home where he’d seen flames and smoke; crews began searching for trapped victims, and started pulling water lines.

“The fire was heaviest in the basement of this single-story structure,” said PP&R Public Information Officer Lt. Rich Chatman. “The fire had extended to the primary floor of the home.”

Only one person was at the house, Chatman informed, “That person received burn injuries and was transported to Emanuel Hospital Burn Center. No specifics are known about those injuries at this time.”

Firefighters stand down, after they discover “drug making materials” in the basement. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

What firefighters did find in the basement was “drug making materials”, Chatman said. “Fire crews were withdrawn from the residence until PF&R’s Hazardous Materials Team could investigate, and confirm that no further hazards existed.”

PF&R fire investigators and Portland Police Drugs & Vice investigators surveyed the scene, Chatman continued. “They determined that ‘hash oil’ was being produced in the basement. Fire investigators believe that the ‘hash oil’ production was directly related to the cause of the fire.”

Given the “all clear” by the HazMat team, firefighters resume extinguishing a fire at this East Portland house. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

“Hash oil” is distilled from cannabis plants. Officials would not say which distilling method was being used, but the most commonly used method produces BHO, or Butane Hash Oil. It’s made by venting butane gas – the flammable fluid in pressurized cigarette lighters – through a glass tube that’s been stuffed with marijuana.

As the vapors rise out, because butane boils at 30.2° Fahrenheit, it leaves behind the crystallized hash oil resins only. But of course, butane is inflammable.

Regardless of the care taken by the “hash oil cook”, the volatile solvents used in the extraction make the process very dangerous. Several recent house fires in the area have been traced to this activity.

The extensive damage to this house means the residents will now need to find a new place to live. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

Per PPB, Portland Police Drugs & Vice investigators removed the marijuana remnants from the owner – who had an expired medical marijuana license.

Charges, if any, have not been determined by PF&R investigators.

“One firefighter experienced a puncture wound to his knee as he searched the building for possible victims,” Chatman said, “He was transported to the hospital and later released.

Wheel assembly pops off PF&R ladder truck
But another newsworthy element to this fire occurred before firefighters even got there. One of the rigs responding was PF&R Truck 7, traveling from SE 122nd Avenue near Market Street.

As this all-in-one, tiller-less ladder truck approached Lents Town Center, heading southbound on SE 92nd Avenue, it bounced through the SE Foster Road/Woodstock Boulevard couplet – when the entire driver’s-side front wheel assembly collapsed, sending a 500-pound wheel and tire rolling down the street.

Truck 7 finally ground to a halt, a long city block south of the couplet, at SE Tolman Street.

PF&R Truck 7’s crew waits, while a heavy wrecker prepares to tow this broken rig to the repair shop. Courtesy KOIN Local 6 News

“The ladder truck’s driver was able to maintain enough control of the 65,000- lb truck to bring it safely to a stop without injury or damage to any occupants or other motorists.” Chatman said.

Later that day, Fire Chief Erin Janssens ordered an immediate inspection of all fire apparatus that similar to Truck 7. The rig had been in service for only about 18 months before this accident occurred, Chatman added.

“This is concerning,” Chatman told reporters. “What I’m told by one of our maintenance managers, it’s he has never seen or heard of something like this happening in his 20 years.” All similar fire trucks in the Portland Fire Bureau are being thoroughly inspected to be sure no others might fail in this way.

The following day, Chatman followed up, saying that a major casting in the wheel assembly failed. The truck’s manufacturer has sent a representative to Portland to study the problem.

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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