HARRISON TOWNSHIP — A quiet Sunday afternoon came to an unpleasant and sudden end for many residents at the Beachwood Apartments in Harrison Township when a reportedly bungled drug operation caused an explosion that injured some and left many others without a place to live March 24.
Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said the explosion and subsequent fire occurred at around 3:20 p.m. in one apartment unit inside the complex located at 38451 Metro Villa Drive off North Pointe Parkway. The unit was occupied by five individuals at the time.
Wickersham said the 19-year-old male tenant of the apartment, who had extensive burns to his body, met with responding deputies and said the stove of his apartment had exploded. He said that he was the only person in the apartment when it happened. However, while investigating the scene, it became apparent that the story provided did not match up with the condition of the scene.
While talking with witnesses and residents of adjoining apartments, it was discovered that there were several other people in the apartment at the time of the explosion — some who sustained minor burn injuries.
While fire officials from three departments, including Harrison Township, Clinton Township and Mount Clemens, worked together to extinguish the blaze that erupted as a result of the explosion, deputies and detectives at the scene were able to determine that there were five individuals inside the apartment at the time, and that four had fled the scene prior to the arrival of deputies. Eventually, three of the five occupants, including the lessee, ended up receiving treatment for their burns at Detroit Receiving Hospital in Detroit. The others were a 22-year-old Clinton Township man and a 21-year-old Harrison Township woman who detectives said also lived at the apartment.
Also inside the apartment at the time of the explosion was an 18-year-old Harrison Township man who sustained minor injuries and refused medical treatment, and the tenant’s 22-year-old brother, also a resident of Harrison Township, who was uninjured in the blast.
Through witness statements, interviews, and a review of evidence at the scene, it was also determined that the residents of the apartment were using a chemical process to extract THC from marijuana plants in the kitchen of the residence. Wickersham said a propane torch was introduced into the process, which ignited the flammable gasses, causing the explosion.
He said investigators with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency were summoned to the apartment to check for evidence of lingering chemicals, and they cleared the scene.
No criminal charges have been filed as the incident is still under investigation.
Meanwhile, the building that houses the apartments is uninhabitable, said Harrison Township Fire Chief Mike Lopez.
Lopez said those who have been temporarily displaced while investigations continue and repairs are made are receiving aid from the American Red Cross. An employee at Beachwood Apartments declined to comment when asked if temporary housing had been provided for those forced to leave their apartments.
“The explosion and fire actually destroyed the unit; it literally knocked walls off the foundation and damaged the surrounding units,” he said. “The building is structurally unstable.”
DTE and Consumers Energy officials were also called to the scene that afternoon to shut off utilities to the building, and an investigation ruled out any speculation of a gas leak. Lopez said the Macomb County Technical Rescue Team was then called out to properly shore up the building and ensure walls and ceilings were stable enough to allow the ongoing investigation.
At press time, sheriff’s officials said the matter had been turned over to the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office to consider what kind of charges, if any, would be brought against those responsible for the explosion.
Lopez said the St. Clair Shores and Roseville fire departments provided ambulance assistance, while the Selfridge Air National Guard Base fire department stood by at one of the Harrison Township fire stations.