More marijuana users making butane hash oil; explosions in Colorado on the rise

Fires spark debate over law, safety

DENVER - Wayne Winkler said one mistake changed his life forever. He was making butane hash oil inside his home in 2012, as a favor for a friend. When he walked past the stove, the oil exploded in his hands.

"My hands literally melted off in one instant," Winkler said, "and I'm burning alive."

By the time Winkler managed to put out the flames consuming his body and his home, the damage was done.

"I had no skin on my fingers to even dial my phone," he said. "I just said, 'Oh, my God. What did I do? What did I do?'"

When Winkler arrived at the University of Colorado Hospital Burn Unit, he was the only patient there injured while making hash oil -- and only the third the unit had seen since 2010.

In 2013, the unit admitted 11 patients. So far in 2014, they've already treated ten.

Camy Boyle, Associate Nurse Manager in the hospital's burn unit, said the injuries are traumatic and life-changing.

"All of the burns are very deep," Boyle said. "The majority of them required some type of surgical intervention."

Exponential increase

Colorado law enforcement is reporting the same exponential increase, from fewer than a dozen hash oil explosions in all of 2013, to more than 30 in just the first four months of 2014.

Sgt. Jim Gerhardt of the Colorado Drug Investigators Association believes that's just the beginning.

"I don't think that these problems are going to stop any time soon," Gerhardt said. "We're going to continue to see this for quite some time, unfortunately."

Since December 2013, hash oil explosions have been reported across metro Denver, including Longmont, Littleton, Thornton and Aurora. There were three in Denver in the space of a month. Each story has generated debate about how dangerous making hash oil really is.

The CALL7 Investigators asked Advanced Engineering Investigations to re-create the conditions being found in homes across the metro.

Forensic engineers agreed to demonstrate the dangers of making hash oil -- using butane inside a two-foot square plexi-glass box inside their facility. They told the CALL7 Investigators it may look easy to do, but it's not easy to do safely.

"If it's not done correctly, (it) can be extremely dangerous," said John Schumacher, vice president and principal engineer at Advanced Engineering Investigations.

Legal debate

The dangers around making butane hash oil aren't the only topic of debate. There's also disagreement about whether it's legal for people who aren't licensed to make it for personal use.

Gerhardt said according to his understanding of Amendment 64, it is.

"If a person damages somebody else's property through these explosions, then certain arson charges might apply. If you endanger a child, then that becomes a felony form of child abuse," he said. "But, beyond that, there's not a whole lot that really prevents people from doing this."

In Arapahoe County, though, the District Attorney is pursuing charges in several cases.

Winkler says whether making butane hash oil is legal or not, it isn't safe.

"Don't ever do this," he said. "I don't want anybody else getting burned up." 

Print this article Back to Top