Explosions rock Denver's early hours as outdoor drug lab burns down (solving city’s mystery of missing propane tanks)

Explosions rock Denver's early hours as outdoor drug lab burns down (solving city’s mystery of missing propane tanks)

Over 30 propane tanks were recovered from the destruction

VicesApril 13, 2021 By Will Brendza

For weeks, propane tanks have been going missing around Denver, from restaurant patios and backyard grills across the city. It’s been a frustrating mystery for many — but a mostly harmless one.

That was, until Saturday, when it was finally solved in a fiery series of explosions at a homeless encampment in the Elyria-Swansea Neighborhood northeast of Denver’s RiNO art district. From which, officials recovered over 30 propane tanks, being used in what they’re calling a makeshift drug lab.

You can try to take North Denver out of the ghetto, it seems, but taking the ghetto out of North Denver isn’t so easy.

Luckily no one was hurt in the fire or the subsequent explosions. Largely thanks to Denver Public Safety Manager Murphy Robinson, who took decisive action when he realized how serious the situation was getting. He signed an executive order on Saturday to have the encampment swept immediately, as flames engulfed tents and propane tanks popped off like bombs within it. They evacuated the people living in the encampment, put the fire out and collected whatever personal items could be salvaged.

“Evidence points to some type of drug lab,” Robinson told Denver CBS local. “Whether it was hash oil or a meth lab, we are unsure at this time.”

Ironically, Robinson now might be in trouble with the City of Denver for his fast action. If the drug lab had been in a residence, there would have been no issue with the emergency evacuation — however, because it was an outdoor drug lab in a homeless encampment, the City legally required that he give the residents 48 hours’ notice before he dismantled their encampment.

Due to the explosive situation at hand, however, Robinson didn’t do that. And now could he could be facing the wrath of Denver’s Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

But he’s not concerned with what might happen to him. As might be expected from a Public Safety Director, Robinson is only worried about the safety of his city.

“This time we were lucky, next time we could be talking about how we dealt with the loss of life,” he said. “That is unacceptable to me and [we] have to find a better solution.”

So, while the businesses and residential neighbors of Denver can rest easy knowing where their lost propane tanks went, the homeless residents of that encampment are now entering a week forecasted to be snowy and cold, without their tents and belongings, and without their stolen propane tanks to stay warm with.

As homelessness ramps up in Denver and across the nation in the wake of last year’s shut-downs, accidents like this are sure to become more common. Times are hard and winter isn’t over, yet. New encampments will sprout up every time one burns or shuts down and the homeless residents of Denver will continue being shuffled around, every time the camp they live in explodes.