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Butane leak fueled blast

SANTA FE – What sparked an explosion at a Santa Fe medical marijuana dispensary in late July has not been determined, but a report from the Santa Fe Fire Department says a butane leak fueled the blast that left two employees with serious burns.

A combustion-type explosion occurred from equipment for a process using butane to extract hash oil from cannabis at the NewMexiCann Natural Medicine dispensary on San Mateo Lane on July 23.

The report released Wednesday by the city under a public records request says that “it was determined that a butane leak from one of the lines in the equipment met with an ignition source. Butane can be ignited by static electricity, electric arcs, or open flames, which were all available in the room at the time.”

One of the NewMexiCann employees, Nicholas Montoya, 29, has been upgraded from critical to serious condition at University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque. The other worker, Aaron Smith, 38, is in a rehabilitation center after spending three weeks in the hospital and had skin grafts on his hands, arms and legs, according to a donation page set up by NewMexiCann, nickmontoyafund.org. The site says Montoya has undergone several surgeries and is fighting an infection in his lungs.

Nicholas Montoya

Nicholas Montoya

Smith, who was interviewed a week after the incident, told the Fire Department the extraction equipment is moved frequently, and it’s possible that a hose came loose and leaked butane before the explosion. The incident report says the most likely possibility was that a hose was completely disconnected from the extractor. A leak could have gone undetected because butane is odorless.

There were several possible ignition sources in the room, such as electrical outlets, two pumps, an oven, a hair dryer and a heat gun. But investigators can’t determine whether any of those caused the blast.

There were several compressed gas cylinders in the building and outside. Some contained refrigerants, and others contained either pure butane or mix of butane and propane, and there was a 5-gallon container of ethanol that has been eliminated as a “fuel source.” The containers were intact after the explosion.

Aaron Smith

Aaron Smith

Online descriptions of the hash oil extraction process indicate that marijuana is soaked in butane or sometimes ethanol, which extracts the active ingredient in pot, and the mixture is then boiled down to a thick oil or paste. The Fire Department report does not make it clear how or whether a butane or ethanol mixture was actually being heated when the explosion took place. It says the extraction process “could have been performed starting at 8 a.m.” the day of the explosion, and the blast was reported at 4:40 p.m.

The explosion was so powerful “the roof had apparently separated from the wall.” Investigators also noted that the wall was warped and fluorescent lights close to the blast origin were melted. NewMexicann reopened for business Aug. 3.

On the fundraising site for medical expenses, NewMexicann posted this statement:” A lot of you will want to ask…what happened? Unfortunately, we don’t know. The accident is under investigation. It was a very scary event for all of us and we are still trying to heal. Our primary concern is for the recovery and well-being of our beloved co-workers.”

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