L.A. Explosive Fire Exposes Dangers of Butane Oil

Daytona Everett

An investigation is underway to determine if criminal conduct was involved in a fiery explosion in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday. Twelve firefighters are injured and there’s extensive damage to buildings.

It’s still unknown how the fire started but officials say it began at the site of a butane honey oil supplier. Butane is an oil used in vape pens and other products and is highly flammable.

NBC Palm Springs visited a local butane manufacturer to see what type of precautions are taken so explosions and fires do not occur.

“The scene changes quickly,” Captain Nathan Gunkel, public information officer for Palm Springs Fire Department, said. “It goes from a nice calm, something we’re used to doing on a normal structure fire, to chaos.” 

Captain Gunkel has seen his fair share of explosions from illegal butane oil manufacturers in Palm Springs.

“We’ve had several in our city that resulted in severe injuries and death and it’s been everything from hotel rooms to private residences,” he said.

The fire department keeps their “head on a swivel” and makes them pay attention to what’s going on around the city.

The explosions Gunkel has experienced in Palm Springs are similar to the one in downtown Los Angeles this weekend. What started out as a routine call turned out to be a “mayday”. Thankfully, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said on Saturday everyone will be okay.

The high flammability of the butane oil is the reason why Gunkel doesn’t mess around when it comes to monitoring it.

“We have everything from life safety systems and gas detection systems, redundancies and power backups,” Spencer Liolios, VP of manufacturing at Kings Garden, said. “So really, no matter what happens here, we have a safe work environment for us and the employees.”

Kings Garden is the only legal butane oil manufacturer in Palm Springs and getting to where they are today wasn’t easy.

“It took us around two years to get our building permit and get all the construction here finalized and inspected by all the regulators and the local authorities and we started operations here around July of 2018.”

Since then, the site hasn’t had a workplace injury or incident.

“All of the extraction is done in very specialized hazardous occupancy rooms that are designed not to explode,” Liolios said.

Every detail of the building and where it’s located is crafted to support safety.

“This facility itself has gone beyond,” Gunkel said. “The city itself also holds them to a higher standard than even the city code.”

An entire chapter of the Palm Springs city code is dedicated to regulating cannabis.

A new butane oil manufacturing facility was approved for a permit on May 13, 2020. (https://destinyhosted.com/print_ag_memo.cfm?seq=2244&rev_num=0&mode=External&reloaded=true&id=72567) The facility still has several steps to go before it can function fully.

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