Explosion rocks quiet Ontario neigborhood, leads to meth lab investigation
ONTARIO - There was an explosion, then flames spilled out of the two-story house and a strange smell filled the air.
Neighbors rushed outside to assist people who lived next door to the fiery house.
When everyone was safe, residents watched as smoke billowed into the air and flames consumed the top level of the house.
The fire Tuesday was the result of a methamphetamine lab explosion that rocked the quiet neighborhood on Jacaranda Street near Mountain Avenue and destroyed an Ontario home.
The fire, caused by the explosion, may have injured several people who left when the residence burst into flames.
The Ontario Fire Department received a call about the explosion about 4:40 p.m. and 14 firefighters responded, fire Capt. Scot Roeber said.
The blaze was knocked down about 15 minutes later after additional firefighters were called to help, authorities said.
Cleanup crews on Wednesday walked in and out of the house wearing gloves and white jumpsuits. Several large refuse bins lined the front yard and the street.
The windows in the house were blown out, and the front wall of the second story was gone, exposing a burned-out interior.
Yellow police tape roped off a significant stretch of the street, and glass was shattered across the pavement.
One neighbor said the house on the corner had always been kind of weird, with tenants moving in and out frequently.
Other residents said they thoughtthe house was empty.
"According to witnesses, four to six Hispanic males fled the residence immediately after the explosion," police Officer Bill Russell said. "It's believed that one or more of the suspects sustained major injuries, including major burns."
Police suspect at least one of the men had been injured because he needed help getting into a vehicle.
About two hours after the explosion, police received a call from a hospital about a burn victim but it was determined to be unrelated.
Anyone with information about the incident can call police dispatch at (909) 376-5823.
The Ontario fire and police departments were working with the Inland Crackdown Allied task force to find out what happened.
Authorities with the task force said they found a large meth lab on the second floor of the house and miscellaneous lab materials on the first floor and in the backyard.
"It's probably been a couple years since we've seen (a meth lab) this big out here," said Tim Hales, task force special agent supervisor.
The lab was capable of producing 50 to 100 pounds of meth per week, Hales said.
Authorities obtained a search warrant about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday and began looking through the home. They pulled out about 25 55-gallon drums of various lab waste, chemicals such as acetone, camping fuel and denatured alcohol as well as lab apparatus, authorities said.
Narcotics officials said the bust is a sign that large meth labs may be moving out of Mexico and back into areas of Southern California including the Inland Empire.
Hales said law enforcement in Mexico has been cracking down on the sale of meth precursor chemicals such as pseudoephedrine and ephedrine.
The U.S. attacked the problem similarly with the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2006, which put restrictions on the sale of products used to cook meth.
Since authorities on both sides of the border have targeted the sale of precursor chemicals, some Mexican meth manufacturers are now choosing to set up shop in the U.S. rather than pay high costs to move the drugs from Mexico, Hales said.
Melissa Pinion-Whitt and Lori Consalvo, Staff Writers
Created: 09/30/2009 08:13:53 PM PDT