Explosion reported at Midway-area hotel; Authorities say drug-making process led to blast

3 people burned in explosion, fire


An explosion apparently caused by an illicit drug-making process blew out walls and windows at a Midway-area hotel Wednesday and set part of it ablaze, leaving a young man gravely burned and two other people less severely hurt, authorities reported.
The blast in a second-floor guest room at the Heritage Inn on Channel Way, just south of Interstate 8, was reported shortly after 11 a.m., according to the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.
Medics took the two people who had been in the room, a man and woman in their early 20s, to UCSD Medical Center for treatment of life-threatening burns and less severe injuries, respectively.
A 20-year-old man who was in an adjacent guest room at the time of the explosion -- which blew out several windows and three walls -- was taken to the same Hillcrest hospital with moderately serious trauma, in large part caused by flying structural debris, SDFRD spokesman Maurice Luque said.
The critically injured man told authorities the blast happened when he lit a cigarette while using a butane spray can to try to extract hashish oil from marijuana. The flame apparently ignited the chemical fumes and caused them to detonate powerfully.
Firefighters evacuated everyone from the three-story hotel while extinguishing the blaze, which spread through walls into the third story and attic of the structure. It took the crews about 35 minutes to fully subdue the flames.
Guest Shinisha Smith said she was just going into her room next door, and she told 10News, "All I [saw] was five windows from one side explode. Then fire and flames started popping up, people started running out of the room burned up, half burned up."
Julie Jordan said she thought it was an earthquake at first.  
"I felt the whole room jump … Next thing I hear a huge explosion. My eyes opened in time to see the wall coming in at me like out of the movies; debris flying everywhere," Jordan said.
Guest Cristobal Garcia told 10News the man in the room that exploded suffered the worst injuries.   
"Young guy over there was all yellow; rubber gloves on and rubber shoes on; he was all burnt," Garcia said.
Frank Pinto said, "I heard him saying, 'I'm sorry, baby, I'm sorry baby.' Then he just booked out of the room with his clothes still smoking, because they don't want to get caught."
Bianca Koch told 10News, "His skin just kept peeling. It was so hot. His lips came off, even his eyelids. He said he's so sorry and he'd never do it again, and he'd stay away from drugs and if he would have only known what this could cause." 
The website for the Heritage Hotel Group mentions SeaWorld frequently. Their site states, "Our Heritage Inn/SeaWorld San Diego Hotel is the ideal place to stay."
The sign in front of Heritage Inn reads, "SeaWorld packages," but residents who live near the motel and an armed security officer who patrols it every day tell 10News the motel is known for drug dealers, prostitutes and gangs. They say the motel is definitely not a family-safe environment.
"I just think that the management in that motel could do a hell of a lot better," said a nearby resident who did not want to be identified.
10News reached out to management for their side but has not heard back. 
Personnel with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration were called in to investigate the explosion, DEA spokeswoman Amy Roderick said.
A hazardous-materials crew determined that no dangerous fumes or other toxic substances were present at the site following the blast and fire, according to Luque.
The man accused of causing the blast and his female companion, whose names were not immediately available, could face criminal charges over the destructive accident, police said.
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