SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. - Schuyler VanFleet, 22, was taken into police custody and Barek Madden, 23, was flown to UC Davis Medical Center with third-degree burns on his face, arms and upper body on Wednesday after their alleged drug operation at Forest Manor Apartments reportedly went awry.
"They were in the process of cooking and preparing hash, and it got away from them," South Lake Tahoe Fire Chief Brian Uhler said.
VanFleet told police he was visiting Madden's apartment in unit one and that they had been using several cans of butane fuel to cook marijuana into a concentrated form called hashish. The fire started in the apartment accidentally, he said.
Around 3:15 p.m. the butane the two young men were using caught fire, causing an explosion, Uhler said. They brought the container outside, where it flashed quickly and lit Madden on fire.
Pedro Vargas, who lives in the apartment building behind Forest Manor at the corner of Forest and Wildwood avenues, said he heard a sound like a balloon blowout and saw flames coming from the lower level of the apartment building.
About 10 firefighters and four law enforcement personnel responded to the fire, evacuating the six units in the building. No other buildings were affected.
Firefighters confirmed the presence of about a dozen cans of butane in the apartment. The extent of the damage to the unit is unknown, and according to a city press release, criminal charges against Madden may be pending. VanFleet has already been arrested for unlawfully causing a fire and for operating a drug lab, both felonies.
The South Lake El Dorado Narcotics Enforcement Team has taken over primary investigative reporting.