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Investigators Suspect Butane Caused Factory Explosion

— May 26, 2020

SmokeTokes blast may have been caused by illegal oil use.

Los Angeles police and firefighters are criminally investigating an explosion at a hash oil manufacturer in the heart of the city.  The explosion left firefighters running from the burning building.  It occurred at SmokeTokes, a supplier for makers of butane honey oil.  Butane is an odorless gas that easily ignites and is used in the process to extract the high-inducing chemical THC from cannabis.

Now, detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department’s major crimes division and the Fire Department’s arson investigators are working hand-in-hand in an attempt to figure out what might have caused the blast, according to police spokesperson Josh Rubenstein, who added, “We’re in the very early stages of the investigation…to understand what happened and figure out how to move forward.”

“The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was assisting local fire investigators,” an agency spokesperson confirmed.  The blast injured a dozen firefighters.

Investigators Suspect Butane Caused Factory Explosion
Photo by Raquel Raclette on Unsplash

“Everybody off the roof!” one shouted in scanner traffic that was captured at the time. “Mayday, mayday, mayday!  All companies out of the building.  Mayday, mayday, mayday!” another shouted.

“Firefighters first thought they were battling a routine structure fire,” city fire Capt. Erik Scott said, “But as they got a little farther in the building they started to hear a loud hissing sound and a significant rumbling that you could feel vibrating throughout the area.”  He added, “one significant explosion occurred at about 6:30 p.m. and estimated the flames to be “as high as 30 feet.”

“Three firefighters were released after spending the night in the hospital,” fire department spokesperson Nicholas Prange said.  “Of the eight who remained hospitalized, two were in critical but stable condition.”  All were expected to survive.

“Things could have been so much worse,” said Los Angeles Fire Department Medical Director Dr. Marc Eckstein.  And, Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said “one of the firefighters inside the building thought things didn’t seem right — the pressure from the smoke and heat coming from the rear of the building were increasing.  He directed everyone to get out.”

The explosion burned the seats of a fire truck positioned across the street and many of the team members were forced to quickly remove their protective equipment, including melted helmets.  More than 200 firefighters rushed to the scene and were able to put out the flame within an hour.

Prange said, “Carbon dioxide and butane canisters were found inside the building but that it was still not clear what caused the blast.”  At this point, investigators suspected the butane oil, which is used for vape pens, edibles, waxes and other products.  The use of the oil in this way is forbidden in the city.

Adam Spiker, executive director of the cannabis industry group Southern California Coalition, confirmed, “If the business was using butane in cannabis extraction it would be illegal because the city has never issued a license for that type of operation.  If they were doing volatile extraction with butane…they couldn’t be legal in the city of LA to do those types of activities.”


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