By VASHON-MAURY ISLAND BEACHCOMBER
King County Sheriff's officers are investigating a Vashon property to see whether residents were manufacturing methamphetamine there, following an explosion Monday morning that leveled a backyard shed at the home.
At 7:25 a.m. Monday morning, neighbors heard a loud boom — an explosion coming from a large outbuilding located in the backyard of the woodsy property suspected of drug manufacturing, according to officials.
Vashon Island Fire & Rescue personnel responded to the scene and quickly doused the flames that had engulfed the storage building, which was approximately 20 feet square. All that remained after the fire was a 20-foot square pile of badly charred debris, hardly recognizable as having once been a building. No structural timbers or walls stood intact, and it was evident from the degree of the structure's demolition that Monday's explosion must have been a powerful one.
The residence, a rental home in the 24400 block of 129th Avenue S.W., had long been suspected of drug activity, said those who live nearby.
County records show that in 2006 the house was declared contaminated with dangerous chemicals used to make methamphetamine and was cleaned up and decontaminated in 2007.
Methamphetamine is a highly addictive illegal stimulant drug that can be made by combining household or industrial chemicals. The drug, a federal Schedule 1 controlled substance, can be smoked, inhaled or injected, and its production and use is on the rise in rural areas, according to National Public Radio.
The manufacture of methamphetamine leaves behind a stubborn coating of toxic residue that is harmful to those who come in contact with it, according to the Meth Lab Cleanup Company, which serves Washington and other states.
After the home's 2007 cleanup, those who lived nearby had hoped the unsavory neighborhood saga would come to an end. But the drug activity had resurfaced in the past couple of years, according to residents' reports.
Neighbors had set up a "neighborhood watch" to keep tabs on the home, which they worried was a hotspot of illegal activity.
"It was a drug house for years," said Emma Amiad, who lives a few thousand yards from the home near Wax Orchard Road on southwest Vashon Island.
People had often been seen coming and going from the home, but little was known about its residents, said neighbor Chris Robison.
"A lot of people were concerned about it," he said. "It's always a question of what's going on there — and all the activity sounds like drug activity. ... You know what your neighbors are doing when you live on a dead-end road."
Neighbors had contacted police to discuss their suspicions about the blue manufactured home in the woods, but it was Monday's explosion that opened the door for law enforcement officials to investigate the property thoroughly.
On Monday afternoon, a squad of sheriff's officers stayed out of the rain in a mobile evidence processing lab truck, awaiting a search warrant for the house and adjoining property, said Lance Dauber, a King County Sheriff's sergeant with the hazardous devices and materials team.
"We are investigating a possible meth lab, and we've certainly found signs of it," he said. "We found a couple items commonly used in the manufacture of methamphetamine."
He cautioned that there was much still to investigate at the scene and that it's possible the items that had been found were not used in drug production.
Fire investigators and hazardous materials specialists planned to comb the property late Monday after receiving a warrant to search it, Dauber said.
The cause of the explosion was not yet apparent, he said.
The residents of the home appeared to be on the run, Dauber added. A neighbor reported seeing three people fleeing from the property just after the explosion occurred on Monday.
The Beachcomber was not able to contact the residents of the rental home or the property's owner, a man who, according to county documents, lives in Auburn.
Because the fugitives may have had burns or other injuries due to their proximity to the explosion, the King County Sheriff's officials instructed Vashon Health Center to enter lockdown mode on Monday morning, barring the doors and letting patients in one at a time, said Tina Isakson at the health center.
"We just wanted to make sure nobody wound up here with burns or something obviously from that scene," she said late Monday morning, after the center exited lockdown mode and returned to normal.
"We're still on alert," she added.
For neighbors, Monday's explosion and ensuing investigation may provide some relief to residents surrounding the suspected drug house.
"We're all hoping this will bring some resolution," said neighbor Rebecca Graves.
"Meth is a very bad toxic material," Amiad said. "This sort of thing shouldn't be tolerated."
This article was originally published in the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber on January 4, 2010.