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Originally published Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 7:56 PM

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Hash-oil solvent blamed in Mount Baker apartment blast

The blast that knocked a wall of a one-story building six inches off its foundation in Seattle’s Mount Baker neighborhood on Tuesday afternoon is one of several recent explosions or fires suspected to be caused by solvents used to manufacture hash oil from marijuana.


Seattle Times staff reporters

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The blast that knocked a wall of a one-story building six inches off its foundation in Seattle’s Mount Baker neighborhood on Tuesday afternoon is one of several recent explosions or fires suspected to be caused by solvents used to manufacture hash oil from marijuana.

Just before 1 p.m., Seattle firefighters responded to the scene of the blast, which happened inside one of three apartment units at 2802 S. McClellan St. The building also houses a flower and gift shop.

No one was hurt in the explosion that blew out a sliding-glass door, a window and a part of the ceiling of an apartment that’s been vacant for at least a month, said Kyle Moore, a spokesman for the Seattle Fire Department. Kitchen cabinets were knocked off the walls, he said.

When firefighters arrived at the scene, there was no smoke — and no flames, Moore said. Unsure what caused the blast, firefighters had the gas and power cut, he said.

Officers from the Seattle Police Department’s Arson and Bomb Squad determined that a buildup of butane gas in a refrigerator sparked the explosion, Moore said. He blamed the blast on the process used to create hash oil.

The most popular way of making hash oil — a high-potency extract of marijuana — involves the use of flammable solvents, particularly butane, which can be purchased in hardware stores.

Butane tanks were being stored in the freezer compartment of a refrigerator in an apartment unit, Moore said. The butane apparently leaked from the freezer into the refrigerator below, and the gas — which is heavier than air — pooled at the bottom of the refrigerator. When the appliance’s electrical system kicked on, it provided enough of a spark to ignite the gas, he said.

Police also found “a substantial marijuana grow” inside the apartment, said police spokeswoman Renee Witt.

Seattle police are searching for the man who was last living in the apartment. He could face charges of reckless endangerment and for the marijuana grow, Witt said.

A man who was identified as the property owner by fire officials at the scene declined to be interviewed.

A search of business and property records show the property is owned by Hugh Harris, who received a business license in March 2012 for Mount Baker Herbal Arts, located at the same address as where the explosion occurred. It was not clear Tuesday if it was still operating at the location.

Darrell Christensen was visiting his friend, the owner of Dis-N-That, a flower and gift shop that occupies the southeast corner of the building, when the explosion occurred.

“All of a sudden, you felt it. You really didn’t hear it,” he said.

The two ran outside, thinking a car had crashed through the west side of the building. They then ran to the east, and saw that the door to one of the apartment units had been blown off its hinges, he said.

“It was the percussion I felt. I don’t remember a ‘boom,’ ” Christensen said.

The owner of the shop was allowed back inside after city engineers determined her part of the building was structurally sound, Moore said.

A week ago, a similar blast damaged an apartment building in Kirkland.

Robby W. Meiser, 45, and his roommate, Bruce W. Mark, 62, were using butane to convert marijuana to hash oil in their second-floor apartment at 7216 N.E. 142nd St. when the explosion occurred, according to Kirkland police.

Kirkland police spokesman Lt. Mike Murray said police forwarded their case Tuesday to the Kirkland Prosecutor’s Office with the hope that misdemeanor reckless-endangerment charges would be filed.

Murray said sorting out marijuana production and usage laws has been confusing after the passage of the state’s recreational-marijuana law. While he says that producing hash oil is legal, people cannot make it in a place where others could be hurt.

“What makes it illegal is the way it was done, in an enclosed area,” Murray said.

A fire that injured seven people and destroyed 10 apartment units in Bellevue in November is believed to have been caused by someone making hash oil. The cause of the blaze is still under investigation.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan



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