Firefighters responding to a blaze at a Richmond, B.C., home beside an elementary school found a methamphetamine lab – a discovery that has police and the city's mayor alarmed that such a dangerous enterprise was operating so close to a gathering place for children.
"I find that kind of use of any property in Richmond to be outrageous, but when you involve small children, it's worse," Mayor Malcolm Brodie said.
"It's a horrific situation," he added.
While summer has largely cleared children from Henry Anderson Elementary School, some still play on the property so they could have been at risk from the drug lab, which is separated from the school by a hedge, RCMP Corporal Stephanie Ashton said.
Cpl. Ashton said in an interview on Thursday that the police are always concerned about meth labs operating in populated areas because of the possibility of leaks of toxic gases, as well as fires or explosions.
"Obviously you have to ask yourself what kind of individuals would set up a chemical lab next to a bunch of children," she said.
Officers exploring the single-family home with a two-car garage were treating the site with caution and wearing protective gear as they sought evidence on Thursday.
About 8 p.m. on Wednesday, firefighters were summoned to the home by area residents, who saw smoke coming from a second-floor window. The emergency responders found items inside that prompted them to call the RCMP.
The police found tubs and lab equipment on the property, including in the backyard. On Thursday, investigators were canvassing the neighbourhood for information on the residents of the house.
"You do the 'what if?' thing," Cpl. Ashton said. "What if the fire had happened at a different time of day and people didn't see it as quickly as they did?
"Potentially we could have had an explosion on our hands. It's a reasonably close call that it didn't happen when school was in session," she said. "Who knows what sort of situation we would have had if it had been three weeks from now and the fire wasn't detected right away."
As a lab team and the drug unit went to work, they found what Cpl. Ashton is describing as a "substantial" amount of methamphetamine in the empty home – a few pounds of the drug. "When you think in terms of buying on the street, they're probably buying a gram at a time. This hadn't been broken down and prepared for sale yet," she said.
The police said they understand that people were coming and going from the house, but they are looking for clues to locate the people associated with the property.
Mr. Brodie said the house's owners could be liable for the cost of decontaminating the property. Also, a city bylaw requires landlords to inspect their properties every three months, so the landlord could also be liable if he or she failed to do so.