ROCKFORD, Mich. (WZZM) -- A Friday afternoon fire at a Rockford apartment complex that left a man with serious burns was caused by a butane explosion during the production of marijuana butter, police said Monday.
The fire at Harvest Hill apartments on Childsdale Avenue just south of 10 Mile Road NE was confined to one unit, but several other units were evacuated over concerns about the building's structural integrity.
An initial investigation by the Rockford Department of Public Safety indicates butane was being used to extract hash oil from marijuana in the production of marijuana butter.
"The butane ignited when he lit a cigarette,'' Rockford DPS Director David Jones said, adding that the explosion occurred in a bathroom.
The victim suffered burns to nearly half of his body, including his mouth. Rockford police were not releasing the man's name because of pending criminal charges, Jones said.
The complex at 100 Childsdale provides housing for low income families and is operated by the Dwelling Place.
Inspectors on Friday thought there would be extensive damage to the building, which has eight separate apartments. But structural engineers on Monday concluded that the building is safe; displaced residents will be allowed to return.
Friday's explosion in Rockford is by no means unique. More than three dozen butane explosions involving hash oil were reported in Colorado last year. As part of the extraction process, butane or propane gas is forced through marijuana to separate its psychoactive material from buds, leaves and stems.
After the extraction, the hash-maker then releases the gas or boils off the liquid, leaving behind marijuana's psychoactive material. The resulting hash oil can be used in vaporizers or added to foods without the grassy taste raw pot imparts.
In July, 2014, a suspected hash operation resulted in an explosion and fire on Union Avenue NE north of Fountain Street. The eight-unit apartment was heavily damaged. Firefighters found numerous butane canisters, marijuana grow equipment and a small amount of marijuana that wasn't burned in the fire.
Several people fled. When Grand Rapids police obtained a warrant to search the house a few days later, the hash-making materials were gone, although they did find a marijuana butter cookbook complete with hand-written notes.
The inevitability of explosions increases as the number of illegal grow operations expand. Butane canisters have been found in police raids at a half-dozen marijuana grow operations in Kent County over the past year, court records show.