CANOGA PARK, Calif. – What witnesses described as a “fireball” erupted from a building in a San Fernando Valley commercial complex Monday, leaving two men dead, two more with critical burn injuries, and a ream of questions about the nature of the business that occupied the premises.
Authorities initially believed the building may have housed a cannabis grow, but Los Angeles Fire Department Captain Erik Scott called the enterprise a “hemp extraction business.” An area resident told mgretailer the operation was a licensed Type 6 (non-volatile) CBD extraction lab.
The incident began shortly after noon Monday, when witnesses reported hearing a series of explosions in a 50-foot-by-100-foot, single-story commercial building. Flames ripped through the facility quickly, damaging a family business at the other end of the warehouse and leaving a row of charred vehicles outside. A team of more than 150 firefighters and a robotic firefighting vehicle brought the blaze under control in about seventy-five minutes, but a crew remained on the scene overnight to stamp out hotspots.
No neighboring buildings were damaged, fire officials said.
On Tuesday morning, firefighters found the badly burned body of an adult male inside what remained of a bathroom in the gutted building. He has not been identified.
A 28-year-old man who suffered burns over 90 percent of his body succumbed to his injuries at a local hospital. Another man remains in critical condition and a third is in serious condition; both are 35 years old and suffered extensive burns. Authorities believe all three men worked inside the unidentified business. None of the victims’ names has been released.
A fifth person remained unaccounted for Tuesday. Scott said a cadaver dog had been brought to the site to comb through the debris, but he didn’t expect to recover another body.
By Tuesday afternoon, the LAFD, the Los Angeles Police Department, and the Los Angeles Interagency Metropolitan Police Apprehension Crime Task Force had launched a joint investigation to determine the cause of the blaze and the nature of the business where the fire erupted. According to Scott, a licensed business may have been engaging in unlicensed activities.
“The business was legal,” Scott said. “However, the operation inside appears to be illegal and did not go through the permitting and safety process.”
He also said investigators found “an abundance of hash material” at the site.
Authorities indicated charges related to loss of life could be filed against the business’s owners if the company was operating illegally.