Burning down the house

Students accused of accidentally torching residence while making hash oil

It took about an hour for fire crews to douse the flames at this house north of campus.

It took about an hour for fire crews to douse the flames at this house north of campus.

Photo By ken smith

Three Chico State University students were left homeless after an alleged attempt to prepare a batch of “honey oil” went sour Saturday night (April 7).

A house at the intersection of Warner Street and West First Avenue was badly damaged in a fire investigators say started when the residents attempted to use flammable chemicals to extract tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) from marijuana. Housemates Nicholas Glasco, 21, Devin Murphy and Cheyenne Havens, both 19, were arrested on charges of manufacturing a controlled substance with bail set at $100,000 each.

Chico State University Police Officer David Bird was passing by in his patrol car and reported seeing flames at about 10:15 p.m., according to the Chico Police Department. Four fire engines and more than a dozen Fire Department personnel battled the blaze—which took about an hour to contain—as officers blocked nearby streets.

Eyewitness Joanne Romaniuk, who lives across the street from the burned home, told Chico State’s student newspaper, The Orion, that flames reached as high as 60 feet.

All three residents escaped the house unharmed, and no injuries were reported. Fire personnel found evidence of drug manufacturing and contacted the Butte County Interagency Narcotics Task Force (BINTF).

Chico Police Sgt. Ted McKinnon, who heads up the BINTF’s north office, was on the scene and said it was fairly obvious what the residents were up to.

Honey oil, also known as hash oil, is concentrated THC oil extracted from marijuana. This is accomplished through the use of household solvents, most commonly butane. Though McKinnon was reticent to provide much information on its manufacture, the Internet is full of instructions and how-to videos. Several contain warnings, advising that the process be done outdoors and away from open flames.

McKinnon said local law enforcement has encountered only a handful of cases of honey-oil production, as they tend to be small-scale operations done for private use instead of bigger operations intended for distribution. He also said Proposition 215 allows for possession of marijuana only and does not legally protect people who engage in chemical processes to get higher concentrations of its psychotropic chemicals. Manufacturing honey oil is a felony offense, he noted.

“We usually hand marijuana offenses off to the Sheriff’s Office, but are involved in this case because of the manufacturing aspect,” he said.

BINTF’s concerns lie more with methamphetamine production, which is more commonly associated with drug-related explosions.

“Surprisingly, we are seeing a great deal less meth labs recently,” he said. “But trends like that are funny; we could have a big bust tomorrow and it could all change, and it doesn’t mean the drug problem is going away.”

McKinnon said his team has done its part in the case by gathering evidence at the scene, and it’s now up to the courts to determine whether and how the damage to the house will affect prosecution and punishment.

The students may also have consequences on the academic front, said Joe Wills, Chico State’s director of public affairs. “It is possible for students to face consequences at the university for incidents that take place off campus, particularly when serious criminal charges are involved,” he said.

Wills didn’t know whether the university was looking into the incident. He said the Office of Student Judicial Affairs would decide whether to investigate and take action.

“There’s no cookie-cutter approach in these situations,” Wills explained. “It’s not like we say, ‘If you are convicted of this crime you receive these penalties.’ It’s looked at on a case-by-case basis. If action is taken, the students would get a chance to give their side of the story and the whole situation is closely examined.”