2 dead after explosive fire at suspected hemp lab in Canoga Park

·3 min read

Two people were killed in a huge fire Monday at a Canoga Park warehouse that authorities suspect was an illegal hemp extraction operation, the Los Angeles Fire Department said Tuesday.

Fire crews worked overnight at 8423 N. Canoga Ave. using a robotic firefighting vehicle and heavy equipment to mop up hot spots. Tuesday morning, a search of the premises resumed, and one body was discovered inside, the Los Angeles Fire Department said.

A second person identified only as a 28-year-old man who was in critical condition with a severe burn injury died at a hospital, authorities said.

Two others injured in the blaze remain hospitalized with serious injuries, authorities said.

It was not immediately clear whether the people who were killed or injured in the fire worked at the business. Paramedics passing by the building were the first on the scene to treat one of the men who was badly burned in the fire, LAFD spokesman Brian Humphrey said.

Investigators say an illegal hemp extraction lab was being operated out of a legal business at the nondescript industrial park. There were reports of multiple explosions at the site.

At 12:18 p.m. Helda Gowimatha was working in the front office at outdoor furniture manufacturer Anderson Teak when she heard a blast.

"I was sitting in my office and thought it was an earthquake,” Gowimatha said. "I texted my husband to see if he felt it too. That's when we saw the fire."

It took 150 firefighters just over an hour to extinguish the blaze, which destroyed a one-story, 50-foot-by-100-foot building. The structure was incinerated in a matter of minutes, Humphrey said, adding that the roof of a nearby business was damaged, but firefighters were able to save that building.

The nature and legality of operations at the building remain the focus of a joint investigation by LAFD, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Interagency Metropolitan Police Apprehension Crime Task Force.

LAFD officials have not confirmed the name of the business, but workers in the area said they could smell a strong odor of marijuana at the industrial park.

Ralph Lliteras, former co-owner of nearby Central City Studio 1, said it was obvious to him that marijuana was being stored at the site next to his shop.

"They kept to themselves, but you would walk by the building and you could just smell the marijuana vapors that were so strong coming from there," Lliteras said, who closed his business over the summer due to the pandemic.

Police investigators have contacted the building's owners as part of their investigation. The listed owners did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

Humphrey said hemp extraction, in which oils are harvested from a hemp plant, involves combustible chemicals as well as heat and pressure.

"It's a very volatile process," he said. "The business at the location was legal, but the work that was being performed there was not."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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