ELKHART — Six house fires in the city of Elkhart this summer were caused by methamphetamine labs, a number slightly higher than in other years, police and fire officials said.
Detective Jeff Eaton of the Elkhart Police Department said he did not know exactly what caused so many fires this year, but it could be a combination of factors, because the process of manufacturing meth involves several different chemicals.
Eaton said the humidity in the summer can cause a chemical reaction, which may have been what happened in some of the cases this year.
“Usually when that happens it means they’ve done something wrong,” said Tony Balzano, a fire investigator at the fire department. “Sometimes the container will build up pressure, causing the materials inside to ignite.”
An ignition can result in serious burns to any person within close range of the lab. Of the six fires caused by meth labs, three resulted in someone getting burned or injured from an explosion.
Firefighters will treat a fire caused by a meth lab with caution because of the some of the chemicals involved. Once the fire is put out, firefighters will hand over the investigation to the police department’s drug unit.
In turn, police may sometimes call the Indiana State Police to dismantle a lab. However, Eaton said some officers in the drug unit also have the training to dismantle a meth lab.
The residence will be deemed uninhabitable if it has been exposed to the chemicals, regardless of the damage received from the fire.
Following standard procedure, police will send information about “meth houses” to the Indiana State Police and he Elkhart County Health Department.
These were the six incidents so far this year in which the fire and police departments were called to investigate meth lab fires:
Firefighters were called at about 10 p.m. April 19 to 704 West Boulevard N. to a reports of a house fire. Upon opening the front door, they located the fire and had it under control immediately. Fire investigators later determined the fire was caused by a meth lab.
Early May 8, firefighters found a meth lab while fighting a fire at the Cornerstone Apartments, 500 S. Main St. Signs from the Elkhart County Health Department and the Indiana State Police were placed outside Apartment 616 to let people know the apartment was dangerous and unfit for human habitation.
The fire department was called to 2701 Ridgewood Apartments to reports of an apartment fire. Firefighters called the police department when they found items inside the apartment that are consistent with manufacturing meth. Derrick Perkey, 23, of Elkhart, was later found in the 400 block of Jackson Place with burns to his hands. Formal charges of dealing in meth were filed in Elkhart Circuit Court.
One person was taken to the hospital with injuries from a meth lab fire at 327 Pottawattomi Drive the morning of June 21. Police and the fire department went there at about 7:40 a.m. on reports of an explosion and fire. Investigators determined the cause of the fire was a meth lab. Police continue to investigate the case.
At about 7 p.m. July 6 the fire department responded to 1820 Fieldhouse Ave. to reports of a fire. The fire was out about five hours later, and after an investigation, officers from the drug unit searched the house and found two one-pot meth labs. Treven Irvine, 21, of Elkhart, came forward the day after the fire saying he “felt bad about the fire he started.” He was charged with dealing in meth by attempting to manufacture it.
The police and fire departments were called the afternoon of July 28 to 230 W. Jackson Blvd. to reports of an explosion and possible fire. Randolf Sargent, 48, was found in a residence on the 400 block of Beardsley Avenue having trouble breathing and with burns to his arms. After being taken to the hospital, Sargent told police he had been trying to manufacture meth in his apartment on Jackson Boulevard when the meth lab caused a chemical reaction. Sargent was charged with dealing meth within 1,000 feet from a family housing complex.