Bryn Robertson & Kevin L. Hoover
ARCATA – Sunday afternoon was a bad time to be a large vehicle in Arcata – in unrelated incidents, one burned up while the other was badly burgled at virtually the same moment.
Ninth and I streets: 'The butane's gonna explode!'
A three-door Chevy van belonging to a Florida native on her way through Humboldt County burnt to complete disuse downtown on Sunday, May 26, leaving smoke in the air and a carcass of a car to be hauled away.
The first indication of something potentially amiss was van occupants spilling out of the soon-to-be sooty husk, yelling "Fire! Fire! The butane's gonna explode!"
As the van people ran off, their prediction came immediately true. Soon the vehicle was engulfed in flame.
Away only briefly from her vehicle, owner Heather Long said she and a group of friends had already walked across town to Safeway when the van caught fire. “We had tortillas and spinach in the van,” said Long. “We were going to get lunch meat.”
Upon hearing of a fire on Ninth and I streets from eyewitnesses in town, Long and her friends quickened their pace back to the van to arrive and find it entirely engulfed in flames, along with all of their belongings inside.
“Now we have lunchmeat and no tortillas,” said Long, who stood tearfully watching the Fire Department pump jets of water into her ruined van.
Visiting from Sunnyvale for the Grand Kinetic Championship, Josh and Celina Hoskins parked their Volkswagen alongside Long’s Chevy before it caught fire. “We saw the smoke,” said Celina. “I thought, ‘Holy shit, that’s right where we parked.'”
Josh Hoskins, with a stroke of adrenaline, leaped alongside the burning van to move their car down the street and out of danger, which suffered only superficial damages.
Also crippled in the fire was local Rolfer Angela Hart’s Infiniti convertible, parked alongside the burning van for the duration of the fire. Hart, a Trinidad resident, believed her car would transport her home but would require repair.
Arcata Police and Fire Department are working to uncover further details regarding the cause and origin of the fire, as well as anyone else possibly involved in the incident. Sgt. Ron Sligh reported several other individuals inside of the van at the onset of the fire, but they took off before APD arrived.
“No one stuck around to talk to us,” said Sligh.
Fire Captain Jon Busher, one of the first in his department on the scene, said the nature of vehicle fires makes them particularly challenging to investigate. “They are small, they build quickly, and any evidence is damaged by the fire,” said Busher.
After Busher and his team rolled up their hoses and swept the sidewalk free of broken glass, Long grabbed a few salvageable belongings from the cinders and turned her back on the van as it was hauled away. She remained confused as to the origin of the fire.
That confusion had ebbed a little bit by Wednesday, when Arcata Fire reported preliminary results of its investigation. "There is suspicion that they were using the van as a drug lab, to make honey oil," said Battalion Chief Sean Campbell.
"Honey oil" is a term for concentrated cannabis, or hash oil. It can be extracted from marijuana via a hazardous process that involves the use of butane. While the websites that offer instructions for this method urge that it be done outside, the vansters appear not to have followed the advice.
"There were multiple butane canisters inside the van," Campbell said. He also noted "signs of flammable liquids and gas," use of which in an enclosed space the firefighter described as "never good."
He said Arcata Fire hasn't interviewed the people who were in the van when the fire broke out, as their identities are unknown. The matter has been turned over to Arcata Police.
AMIC: Another bash-and-rummage
Meanwhile, out at the parking lot of the Arcata Marsh Interpretive Center, still another unwary Marsh visitor learned the hard way not to leave anything of value in his car and visible to passing thieves.
Arcata resident Corey Jung left his Honda Pilot unattended for a half-hour or so in the parking lot. On returning, he found the back window broken and the vehicle severely rummaged.
Jung said his friend had left her purse on the front seat, which may have tempted the burglar to bust in.
Oddly, though, the purse wasn’t taken, even though the rest of the vehicle had been rifled through.
Perhaps purse contents weren’t what the culprit was looking for, or maybe they never got to it.
“I’m thinking they got interrupted,” Jung theorized.
He estimates that the damage will cost him $700. “It’s a pain in the butt,” Jung observed.