A secret BHO megalab hidden behind a false wall, the apathetic employees of a paint store, and a special education school all fit into a strange set of circumstances leading to a California man facing up to ten years in prison.

Last July, Thomas Jan Warren was running a paint store in an 8,000 foot warehouse in Santa Rosa. Unbeknownst to the public was the industrial butane hash oil lab that Warren was operating behind a false wall in the warehouse. After a fire broke out in the facility last July, authorities found 54 pounds of cannabis extract, alongside 1,500 pounds of raw cannabis plants and 10,000 butane canisters. It was later discovered that Warren had at least a dozen employees working for him in his hash oil operation.

When the blaze began in the facility, Warren’s workers at first tried to put out the flames themselves with fire extinguishers, then gave up and fled the scene without contacting authorities, leaving a burning warehouse containing more than 30,000 liters of flammable butane to run its course.

Hours later, smoke was reported rising from the warehouse. When firefighters responded to the scene, they were unaware that it had the potential to explode on them, and put the fire out before any of the unused butane caught fire.

“We were very fortunate that we were able to stop the fire before explosions injured or killed people, from the school next door or our firefighters,” Paul Lowenthal, assistant fire marshal in Santa Rosa, told The Press Democrat.

That school is not trivial to this story, as it has triggered the possibility for an “enhancement” in Warren’s sentencing. On Tuesday he pleaded guilty to using volatile chemicals to manufacture a controlled substance. The fact that the warehouse was only 100 feet from a special education school means that the sentence for such a crime could be anything from probation to 10 years in prison. Warren is up for sentencing in July. His employees face up to six months in jail each for their part in the crime.

“This fire is the result of unregulated, sloppy hash oil production that puts lives in danger,” prosecutor Matt Hubley said.

Photo via Flickr user liz west