Officials: No danger from controlled meth-house blaze

       Westsiders were in no danger of toxic or smoke hazards April 8 when Colorado Springs Fire Department crews did a “controlled burn” of a donated house at 2413 Ehrich St. that had been used for the experimental manufacture of methamphetamines, city fire officials say.
       The Midland-area house, which was only partially burned, remained on the site this week - marked by police tape warning people away.
       Battalion Chief Rick Martinez, who heads up the hazardous materials efforts for City Fire, said the building is to be demolished by trained professionals, probably within a week, with the remains hauled off to a haz-mat waste center.
       Regarding the fire, he said the necessary county and Environmental Protection Agency burn permits had been obtained, and neighbors in a surrounding one-block area had been notified.
       Any toxic residues or fumes from the meth testing would have burned away before leaving the house, explained Lt. Jon Hollon of Station 14 at the scene.
       Also, smoke was not a hazard to people or nearby houses, although the neighbors had been advised to leave the area during the burn, Martinez said.
       A close-by resident, who declined to give his name, said he had no problem with the fire, believing that it was a necessary part of battling methamphetamine problems.
       But not everyone in the area knew what was going on. The Westside Pioneer received several calls from people outside the one-block area who saw the smoke or were worried about the side effects from a meth-house blaze.
       Earlier in the week, the house had been sealed off so that health and law enforcement officials could mix up test batches of methamphetamine and monitor the poisons released into the air.
       Results of those tests are still being analyzed.
       With the highly addictive drug becoming a nationwide problem - including the Westside, where police busted a dozen meth labs in 2004 - officials are trying to gather as much information as they can. They are especially concerned about the health of people who are unknowingly exposed to the chemicals used in meth-manufacturing.
       “There's a war out there and we're fighting it,” Martinez said. “But it's like being blindfolded because we don't have all the information.”
       A key reason for the fire was to verify the hypothesis that a house used for meth-making burns faster and then to measure how long that is. This was the first time City Fire has knowingly dealt with a fire in a meth house, Martinez said.
       Unfortunately, the plan did not go well, because - fire crews found out later - the aged house had unexpected inner protection. Sheetrock covered the original lath and paster walls (because of damage from some previous fire).
       “It was frustrating for us,” Martinez said. “We thought the burn would go quickly and it didn't.”
       After a couple of hours the wind shifted, and firefighters decided to put out the unfinished fire because of an outside chance it might spread to a garage at a neighboring house, Hollon said.

Westside Pioneer article