UPDATE: Police confirm drug lab involved in West Vancouver house fire
A fire in an illegal drug lab forced the evacuation of about 40 people from a tony West Vancouver enclave Monday afternoon.
Neighbours complained of smoke coming from a home in the 5500-block of Greenleaf Road just before 3 p.m. Several West Vancouver fire crews responded, but struggled to find the blaze for the volume of acrid white smoke clouding what West Vancouver Fire Chief Jim Cook described as a basement suite with a small kitchenette.
“The fire was very difficult to find,” he told The Outlook at the scene Monday. “There wasn’t much heat but there was lots of smoke which was found later to be caused by chemicals.”
Fire crews also discovered a man suffering from smoke inhalation and rushed him to Lions Gate Hospital. According to Cook, the man had spent approximately 10 minutes trying to knock down the fire himself before fire crews arrived.
“We immediately evacuated the building, brought all the firefighters out,” Cook said, while nearby rescuers decontaminated their equipment.
Because of the noxious white smoke — “consistent with a chemical fire,” Cook said — and because of the type of lab equipment firefighters described seeing inside the suite, the West Vancouver police and the RCMP’s Clandestine Laboratory Enforcement and Response Team were quickly called in.
By 4 p.m., police had evacuated about 40 residents from a dozen or so homes within a 150-metre radius of the property to protect against the possibility of injury from explosion or toxic gas, according to West Vancouver police spokesman Const. Jeff Palmer.
Some of those evacuees took shelter at the nearby Eagle Harbour Montessori school. All residents were allowed to return to their homes by 9 p.m.
By Tuesday afternoon, West Van police still had the entry to the Greenleaf Road home cordoned off as police were awaiting approval of a search warrant to enter the home and investigate a possible clandestine drug lab.
“A search warrant application is being written as we speak,” Palmer told The Outlook Tuesday. “Because, although entry was made by firefighters and subsequently by the clandestine lab enforcement team, those entries are to ensure the area is secure and that the hazard is mitigated and contained,” not, he explained, to investigate or recover any evidence.
A search warrant for the entire property was approved by the end of the day Tuesday and a “medium-sized” drug lab was discovered, Palmer said. Investigators were back on-scene Wednesday morning.
The West Vancouver constable said he could not recall the department ever conducting a drug lab investigation in the Eagle Harbour neighbourhood, but stressed this kind of illegal drug manufacturing can happen anywhere with four walls and a roof.
“They can pop up anywhere, anytime. Certainly my experience over the last number of years is that no neighbourhood is immune from somebody looking to set up a grow operation or a clan lab.”