Explosion at S. Austin Apt. prompts more training for AFD firefi - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Explosion at S. Austin Apt. prompts more training for AFD firefighters

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A marijuana cooking explosion that sent two people to Brooke Army Medical Center last week is now a training tool for Austin firefighters.

The drug-extraction process is a new trend causing trouble in California, and firefighters fear things may get just as bad here.

At 10:30 a.m. on March 27, calls begin coming in from the Waters at Bluff Springs Apartments in South Austin.

Caller: "Something in our apartment complex just blew up. Our entire building shook. I think somebody might be hurt. I don't know."

Dispatcher: "What exploded?"

Caller: "An apartment did. Their door frame is busted open."

Caller: "Somebody's trapped in there though."

Dispatcher: "How do you know somebody's trapped?"

Caller: "This girl is screaming for me to come help her. Her friend is in there."

Caller: "I saw the guy run out. His sweatpants were shredded. His girlfriend's ankle is broken."

When firefighters and police arrive, they think the occupants are operating a meth lab, but they learn it's a new, dangerous trend involving marijuana.

The culprit is a honey oil extractor. Austin Fire Department Chief Arson Investigator Aaron Woolverton showed FOX 7 a similar device on YouTube.

"They have legitimate uses for this. It's only when you put the marijuana in it that it becomes an issue," Woolverton said.

As Woolverton explains, the couple in the apartment, who have been identified as Nicole Mann and Ryan Connell, were attempting to extract pure THC from marijuana, using butane.

"They developed a leak in this particular case. The leak bled off into the apartment creating an explosive atmosphere and something which we listed a whole set of things that could have caused the explosion," Woolverton said. "We suspect it was the dishwasher judging by the amount of damage to the dishwasher. The dishwasher was pushed up off the floor, folded forward and out in the room."

Woolverton says the front and back walls of the bottom floor apartment were knocked out, the windows and window frames were blown out, and items from the inside thrown 50 to 60 feet away.

Mann and Connell sustained severe burns and some broken bones. There are being treated at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. On Monday they were charged with arson.

"After we did some research it appears on the west coast that this is a more common thing out there. It's just kind of slowly making its way here," Woolverton said. "We're trying to educate all of the firefighters to know when you go into a place, hey, look around for these types of things because it's out there obviously. You've got one that turns into an explosion obviously we'd like to get them identified before an explosion occurs."

Mann and Connell face more charges. Police say along with the extractor, they located a large amount of drugs and cash inside the apartment.

The two have been in trouble before. In YouTube video from December of 2011, you see Mann being arrested by an APD officer at Barton Creek Mall.

She is charged with assault and Connell is charged with interfering with police duties for grabbing the officer as he was trying to arrest Mann.

But for their most recent crime Wolverton says, "They were lucky they were able to walk away from it."

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