A suspected methamphetamine lab that sparked a Martinez house fire Wednesday is one of several authorities shut down every year.
“It’s been a couple of months since we’ve had one,” Columbia County sheriff’s Capt. Sharif Chochol said.
The labs, which can be set up in vehicles, hotel rooms or residences, are getting smaller and harder to detect, therefore the number of meth labs narcotics investigators find are decreasing.
“We don’t have the complaints that we used to,” Chochol said. “The most common method now is harder to detect.”
Three people were arrested at the fire at 3510 Rainbow St. Residents Michael Russell, 52, Kathleen Stanford, 40, were charged with manufacturing methamphetamine, along with Blake Barfield, 24, of Clearwater, S.C.
Though others lived in the rental home, no more arrests are expected.
Chochol said those arrested were making meth in a small lab in a bedroom of the rented home. An explosion caused the fire, Chochol said.
“They were making it. They were actually in the process,” Chochol said, adding he couldn’t discuss details of the lab because the case is ongoing. “They were mixing chemicals and obviously not in a lab. They are not working with lab equipment. They are working out of two-liter bottles and stuff not made for mixing chemicals.
“These are not scientists.”
Miguel Garcia Sr., who lives across the street saw flames at about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday and called 911.
“I came outside and I could see the flames billowing out of the picture window, out of the side of the house, 10 or 15 foot above the roofline,” Garcia said. “Mike (Russell) was hollering call 9-1-1. I could feel the heat in the middle of my front yard.”
Russell was transported to the hospital for minor burns sustained when the lab exploded. He was inside and was pushed out a side window by Stanford who also was inside the house at the time.
“He was caught in the corner over there and I was right over there at the door, texting on the phone,” said Stanford, who said that Russell came tumbling out on his head.
Firefighters arrived and were alerted to the possibility of hazardous materials inside the home, Columbia County Fire Rescue Chief Danny Kuhlmann said.
Inside, firefighters recognized components typically used in the making of meth and called in deputies.
Chochol said several hazardous materials are used to manufacture the drug including corrosive and flammable materials.
The home was engulfed in flames when fire personnel arrived and the blaze was extinguished quickly. Firefighters returned to the home Thursday morning to put out smoldering hot spots.