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2 People Critically Injured When Walnut Creek Apartment Explodes, Drug Lab Suspected

WALNUT CREEK (CBS SF) -- Two people are critically injured and one is unaccounted for after an explosion and fire at an apartment complex in Walnut Creek Friday morning.

Police said the fire broke out in the 1500 block of Sunnyvale Avenue at 10 a.m. The top floor of one of the 4-unit apartment units was completely blown off from the explosion. The fire was extinguished shortly before 11 a.m.

At least one of the two people with critical burn injuries have been airlifted to a nearby hospital, according to Ken Kirby with the Contra Costa County Fire Department. One occupant remains unaccounted for. The partially collapsed building is too unstable for crews to search for a possible victim, according to a fire official.

Contra Costa County Fire investigator Vic Massenkoff said the possibility of a gas leak was for the most part ruled out.

After the first large explosion, witnesses said dozens of smaller explosions followed. Two firefighters were too close with their water hose as butane canisters exploded around them.

"To give you an idea how strong the blast was, one canister is an entire apartment complex down the street from here," Massenkoff told KPIX 5.

Firefighters kept spraying water as fireballs erupted from the apartment.

Investigators told KPIX 5 the unit was a drug lab, filled with butane gas to extract hash oil from marijuana plants. "I've been on the job for 39 yrs. This is the worst blast damage I've seen in this type of incident," Massenkoff said.

KCBS reporter Dave Padilla arrived on the scene shortly after the explosion. He spoke with one man who said he was waiting for the Pleasant Hill Library to open when he heard the explosion. He thought it might be close, but when he followed the smoke, he said it was half a mile away.

Across the street from the explosion, Sunnyvale Deli and Market owner Gila Naziri says he was working when things started falling off the shelves as the collapse occurred.

Another witness said she saw injured people after the explosion standing in the street with blood flowing from their faces and hands, appearing to be in shock.

Contra Costa Fire officials say they are getting reports of damage up to 2o0 feet away with widespread glass breakage. The explosion is considered an isolated incident

An evacuation shelter is in place at United Methodist Church at 1543 Sunnyvale Ave for the 50 displaced residents and neighbors.

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