By Alfa · Dec 8, 2004 ·
  1. Alfa

    REGINA -- Poisonous chemicals being cooked into crystal meth are a recipe for a toxic fire, leading firefighters, police and other arson professionals directly into the middle of a health and safety hazard, said the organizer of a seminar on clandestine drug labs.

    Around 63 firefighters, insurance adjusters, meter readers and police officers from across Saskatchewan are attending the two-day seminar organized by the Saskatchewan branch of the International Association of Arson Investigators (SASKIAAI).

    "It's coming this way, so we thought we'd be proactive," said the organizer, Det. Sgt. Rick Watson.

    These secret labs are often found when they go up in flames, said Watson. "As a first responder, a lot of firefighters will be right inside this thing before they realize it's a (clandestine) lab," he said.

    Firefighters recognize a crystal meth lab when they see the equipment

    -- such as hot plates, tubing and Pyrex containers -- in a hotel room, travel trailer or rented home. These buildings become contaminated by the chemicals, making them a danger to future tenants or cleaners, said Watson.

    Marijuana grow-operations are a more common drug operation seen in Saskatchewan. Pot growers will cause a fire by bypassing the electrical meter so meter readers do not see the high amounts of electricity they are using.

    At least one fire in Regina this year was caused this way, said Watson, who is also a member of the commercial crimes and arson unit of the Regina Police Service.

    Saskatchewan does not have the number of labs found in B.C., Alberta and some of the western states, but the number will likely grow, said Watson. Crystal meth is being found along the Yellowhead highway from Edmonton down to Saskatoon, he said.

    "They're probably here (in Saskatchewan). We just haven't picked up on them yet," he said.

    The seclusion of rural areas makes small-town Saskatchewan a more likely site for these labs than Regina or Saskatoon, said Watson.

    That's been the experience in Alberta and B.C. Several rural fire departments, including Weyburn, Langenburg, Balgonie and White City, attended the seminar.

    Although highly dangerous, it is cheap and quick to make the highly addictive drug. A batch of crystal meth worth $2,000 on the street can be made in 36 hours with $200 in supplies, said Watson.

    Acids, fuels and other chemicals are cooked to make crystal meth. Each give off toxic fumes when the drug is being prepared and during a fire. Drug enforcement agents in California have died of cancer caused by inhaling the chemicals produced in the labs they have investigated, said Watson.

    Cleaning up labs is also dangerous, said Watson. "When you find a lab, shutting it down and collecting evidence is a real chore. You have to shut them down in order, so they don't blow up or catch fire."

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