THC extraction explosions hit Palm Springs

Two suspects in custody



Police have arrested Charles Wunderlich for manufacturing a controlled substance, unlawfully causing a fire of a structure and possession of stolen property. Detectives fond him on 1500 block of North Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs Thursday afternoon. He left the scene of 1500 block of Wawona Road, after an explosion was caused by the process of extracting THC from marijuana. 


A man has been arrested for his part in a dangerous trend that's made its way to the valley, and police are still searching for another suspect.

People are using flammable gas to get more out of their marijuana.  It caused two home explosions in Palm Springs on Monday and left neighbors worried about their safety.  

"I heard a big boom!" said Jose Leba recalling the explosion that rocked the Palm Springs neighborhood next to the liquor store he works at.  It came from an apartment in the 1500 block of Wawona Road, blowing out the window and making it unsafe to occupy. The blast happened around 6:45 p.m.

"All of a sudden, I hear an explosion and a bunch of glass breaking."

About an hour and a half earlier, neighbors described a similar scene at a home on the 3900 block of Sunny Dunes.  Police arrested Aaron Ellwanger, 48, after gas ignited and caused a fire at the home.

Officers said Ellwanger was standing outside as firefighters ran into the garage to put out the fire.

The Palm Springs fire department says both explosions were caused by the same thing, people trying to extract THC from marijuana.  

"You see people blowing up their houses and stuff, when you're just depleting cans of butane into the air," said Shanden Sessions, the manager at Organic Solutions of the Desert.  "It's not good for the atmosphere and it's not safe for anyone that lives around you." 

It's also not uncommon these days to see people using the flammable gas this way. Several videos on YouTube show people using butane or alcohol to extract THC, the chemical mostly responsible for marijuana's psychological effects, from the plant.  

The result, called wax or hash oil, causes a much quicker and more intense high.

The dangerous process and the product are both illegal in California.  "It's a lucrative business and I guess with that system, it's a lot cheaper to do," said Sessions.  

Apparently, lucrative enough for people to risk their own safety and the safety of those around them.  

A neighbor described his feelings, "Scared, because you just never know when they're going to blow up their home and you know, whoever's house next to you."

Aside from the dangers involved, recently legalized dispensaries say these instances only hurt the industry they're trying to grow.  "

We're trying to keep this in the light and do everything legal and legit as possible," said Sessions.  "So, it's hard, you know, when people aren't willing to go about this the right way." 

Ellwanger was booked into the Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility in banning on charges of manufacturing a controlled substance and unlawfully causing a structure fire, both felonies.

Anyone with information about either incident is asked to call Palm Springs Police Detective Marcus Litch at (760) 323-8105.

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