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Police say honey-oil production sparked explosive fire

A fire on Lawnridge Street Thursday morning that leveled a house and garage and sent one man to the hospital was caused by someone making butane honey oil, Medford police said in a Facebook post today.

Neighbors told police they heard explosions after the fire started around 9:40 a.m. The blaze destroyed a house and garage at 1492 Lawnridge St., and damaged two other houses. One man was driven to the hospital with burns to his hands and feet. He was later transferred to a Portland hospital because of his extensive injuries, police said.

"We found a couple-hundred butane containers in the garage," said Greg Kleinberg of Medford Fire-Rescue. "There was a pretty big fuel load in there."

Kleinberg said the team found full 45-caliber bullets in the garage but could not confirm whether any ammunition went off due to the heat.

Medford police Lt. Kevin Walruff said the investigation also yielded marijuana plants in one of the rooms of the residence.

Investigators who returned to the house with a search warrant Thursday night found evidence of honey-oil production, the post said, though the investigation was continuing. Honey oil is the oil extracted from marijuana by passing butane over the plant. The butane evaporates, leaving behind the oil rich in THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Thursday's honey-oil fire was the fourth the department has seen this year, and Kleinburg said four people have been injured since 2015.

"The injuries from the Lawnridge Street fire are some of the more severe injuries that we've seen," a post on the Medford police Facebook page said.

The process of extracting THC from marijuana requires the use of large amounts of butane, which is commonly used in cigarette lighters and welding torches because of its flammability.

"Because the process involves using so much butane, the fumes often linger around until they find an ignition source. Once it does, there is a large flash explosion, with no time to escape," the Facebook post said.

Walruff said unlicensed production of honey oil is a felony under Oregon law. HB 4104, passed earlier this year, made the unlicensed production of cannabinoid extracts illegal.

The house at 1492 Lawnridge St. is owned by Jackson County Circuit Judge Ron Grensky, property records show. A call to his office was not immediately returned. Grensky owns multiple Medford properties, but lives in Jacksonville.

The fire was investigated by Medford police and the Medford Area Drug & Gang Enforcement Task Force.

Hannah Golden is a reporting intern. Reach her at hgolden@mailtribune.com.