ST. ALBANS — Sixty police and emergency responders were on Lake Street in St. Albans Sunday for the dismantling of two makeshift methamphetamine labs discovered following a fire in a downtown apartment Saturday afternoon.
The dwelling, along with about nine other apartments, is situated above the temporary home of Ace Hardware at the corner of Lake and Catherine streets.
One pot in which meth crystals are formed and two gassing generators used to feed hydrogen chloride gas into the pot were found in the building along with chemicals used in the production of meth.
An active lab, which can be as simple as two large plastic soda containers, was removed from the building Saturday night and secured in a metal trashcan. Meth labs of this nature are highly combustible.
“The second device was actually brought out of the apartment and blown up in the parking lot by the bomb squad,” said St. Albans Police Chief Gary Taylor. That occurred on Sunday, following the execution of a search warrant.
Police were initially alerted to the possibility of a methamphetamine operation on Saturday morning, when one of the residents in the building was alleged to have purchased materials commonly used to make meth from the Ace store.
“We were already paying attention to one of the individuals … because of an alert clerk at Ace Hardware,” said Taylor. The clerk had called police to report the suspicious purchases.
Police began an investigation that morning. At 5:30 p.m. Saturday firefighters were contacted about a strong odor of burning plastic in the building.
Police arrived along with firefighters and quickly determined the smell was coming from apartment 2A. They found significant fire damage in the bathroom that had been caused by an active meth lab, said police.
Asked how long the lab had been operating, Taylor said he believes it was first used on Saturday. “We think we were on it immediately,” he said.
“The underlying issue is people are tired of it and are standing up,” he added.
The building was evacuated and Catherine and Market streets were closed to traffic. An emergency shelter was set up at Bellows Free Academy (BFA). AmCare Ambulance assisted with the evacuation of 14 people, including a disabled resident, said Taylor.
The Red Cross housed 12 occupants of the building overnight at La Quinta Inn and Suites. They were able to return to their apartments on Sunday, but some may have chosen to stay one more night at La Quinta.
Police worked throughout Saturday night to obtain a warrant to search the building, succeeding at around 10:30 a.m. on Sunday.
On hand for the execution of the warrants were members of the Vermont Clandestine Lab Team, the state Hazardous Materials Team, the state bomb squad, the Vermont Drug Task Force, St. Albans police and firefighters.
A robot was used to assist with the removal of materials from the building.
The Ace store was reopened for business this morning.
SAPD has now been involved in the investigation of four meth labs since 2010. A mobile lab and one housed in an apartment building at the corner of Fairfield Street and Lincoln Avenue were discovered in 2010, as was another on North Elm Street in 2013.
Suspects have been identified, but the incident is still under investigation. Anyone with information is asked to contact the SAPD at 524-2166.