REDDING, Calif. - Multiple families remain homeless Monday night after a fire caused by an exploding honey hash oil lab damaged multiple apartments this weekend on Lawrence Road in Redding.
Redding police said 27-year-old Christopher Hightower was using butane gas to process marijuana inside a garage of one of the units when something ignited the gas.
The three-alarm fire ripped through the attic of multiple apartments, including that of Tiffany Smith, who returned home Monday and surveyed the damage.
"It's really horrible. The worst thing we saw when we first came in is obviously this," Smith said as she points to the extensive mess inside. "And then all of our pictures are gone, all of our family photos were gone, broken. Our baby books are gone."
Smith was home at the time, along with her husband, Shaun, and their five children.
"It was like a big boom. It almost sounded like someone crashed into our garage," she said.
The Smiths rushed outside and soon after, Hightower came running out of the apartment next door.
"He's just screaming, 'Help me, help me, I'm on fire,'" Smith said.
According to Shaun, Hightower didn't appear to be on fire but was instead likely feeling the burns he suffered inside.
Shaun and other neighbors grabbed garden hoses and fire extinguishers in an attempt to put the fire out, but soon realized that was a lost cause.
"Once he [Shaun] realized he couldn't contain it he's like, 'Get the kids out of the house,'" Smith said, standing near the charred remains of a Volkswagon in front of the neighbor's home. "He's [Shaun] screaming to get the kids out of the house because he didn't know whether that car was going to blow up or it was going to expand so quickly to our kitchen that we wouldn't get the kids out."
The Smiths and their neighbors were all able to escape to safety.
Hightower was airlifted to a burn unit where he's listed in serious condition Monday.
The damage done by his alleged illegal activity is impacting numerous families, now living out of hotel rooms and searching for a new place to live.
And Smith said Hightower didn't even live in the apartment where the fire started, but was staying with a friend.
"I'm not sure whether the guy even knew that he was doing that there or what the case is, because we haven't really talked to the guy," Smith said of her neighbor. "But one guy's mistake, for sure, has affected several families with a lot of kids."
Some of Smith's possessions have been salvaged and stacked in their garage until they find a new home.
She said it's a mountain to climb considering her husband recently lost his job and they were already struggling to live month-to-month.
They're doing what they can to get some help, hoping the community will offer support by contributing to their online fundraiser.
"We're just doing our best just to get something going. It's been a bad year."
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