Corrections appended

State and local officials are investigating the cause of a fire Thursday afternoon that severely injured two employees at New MexiCann Natural Medicine and prompted state officials to suspend the Santa Fe-based company’s license to produce medical cannabis products.

Two men working at the company’s main campus on San Mateo Lane when the fire ignited were taken initially to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center with burns to their heads and torsos, said Capt. Jimmy Vigil of the investigations division of the State Fire Marshal’s Office. The injured men later were flown by helicopter to a Denver burn center.

One man was in “serious but stable” condition Friday evening, the Fire Marshal’s Office said, while the other man was in critical condition.

The state fire marshal, the state Department of Health, the Santa Fe Fire Department and the state Environment Department’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau are jointly investigating the blaze.

“We’re trying to figure out what went wrong,” Vigil said.

Greg Gurulé, a spokesman with the Santa Fe Police Department, said an explosion at the New MexiCann facility was reported around 12:40 p.m. Thursday. He said he had no further information.

“Preliminary reports from the Santa Fe Fire Department indicate the explosion occurred in the immediate vicinity of New Mexicann’s chemical extraction equipment,” the state Department of Health said in a statement.

The agency suspended the company’s medical cannabis production license Thursday evening, according to spokesman David Morgan.

New MexiCann’s marketing director, Jaylene Kost, declined to comment Friday.

The San Mateo Lane site is New MexiCann’s headquarters, greenhouse, commercial kitchen and production facility. The company also operates several medical cannabis dispensaries in Northern New Mexico.

This is the second explosion at the facility. A blast in 2015 left two New MexiCann employees severely burned. At the time, officials said they suspected a chemical extraction process involving butane went awry in a lab.

The state Occupational Health and Safety Bureau found a dozen serious health and safety violations at the site following an eight-month investigation. The agency fined the company $13,500.

One of the injured workers also filed a lawsuit against the company in 2017. Nick Montoya was rushed to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center after the explosion and then was airlifted to University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque. He said in his complaint that he suffered third-degree burns to a high percentage of his body, had a prolonged stay in an intensive care unit and needed multiple skin grafts after the explosion.

Montoya alleged in the complaint he did not have the proper clearances, training, equipment or emergency protocols to be performing the dangerous extraction procedure he was asked to perform.

Another worker, Mark Aaron Smith, had filed a similar complaint against New MexiCann about a year earlier.

It’s unclear from online court records exactly how the two cases — which eventually were consolidated — were resolved. Records indicate the case was resolved by a “split decision,” but documents also say Montoya and Smith agreed to dismiss their complaints in June 2019, which often means the parties in a civil complaint have reached an out-of-court settlement.

Corrections: This story has been amended to reflect the following corrections. A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration was involved in the investigation into Thursday's explosion at New MexiCann Natural Medicine. The state Environment Department’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau is investigating, not the federal agency. A previous version also incorrectly reported that the federal agency found violations at the site following a fire in 2015. The state Occupational Health and Safety Bureau conducted the investigation and issued fines, not the federal agency.

(9) comments

Carolyn DM

I won't be surprised if OSHA shuts the whole operation down. I can't even begin to imagine what has become of their liability insurance.

Khal Spencer

According to the Albuquerque Journal, "In 2015, an explosion severely burned two workers extracting the active ingredient in marijuana, THC, in a process in which cannabis is soaked with butane, then heated over flame to boil off liquid and create the paste-like hash oil."

https://www.abqjournal.com/1507842/fire-officials-investigating-incident-at-cannabis-dispensary.html

"Butane is a highly flammable, colorless, easily liquefied gas that quickly vaporizes at room temperature. " (Wikipedia). If I, as an analytical chemist, had been working on something like that in my old chemistry lab at a large nearby Federal installation, I would have been knee deep in safety training for me and my staff, and reading workplace safety documents that would have to be approved by everyone from my immediate manager up to the Pope. Somehow I wonder if the operation in question had sufficient safety protocols in place, but I will leave that conjecture to the investigation.

Glad no one was killed.

Khal Spencer

Flammable gas lower and upper flammable/explosive limits, by percent volume of air.

https://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/explosive-concentration-limits-d_423.html

Jessica guttman

It's all about the mighty dollar. These owners know nada about wax and oil production and they certainly don't care about their employees.

Mike Johnson

Maybe too many employees sampling the weed?

Kathy Fish

Clever!

Steve Spraitz

Probably trying to save payroll costs and maximize profits at employee expense by not using proper safety protocols and training

Jessica guttman

Yup. Nailed it. Thank you

Khal Spencer

The full state investigation should be made public.

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