LA City Captain Burned in Explosion Sues Businesses

A Los Angeles City fire captain who was seriously burned while escaping an explosion at a  building involved in the marijuana trade, has filed suit against the property owners and associated businesses. Captain Victor Aguirre and his wife filed suit against Steve Sungho Lee, Stelee Industries, Inc., SL Property Management I LLC, SL Property Management II LLC, L&H Limited Partnership, Biohazard, Inc., Green Buddha, LLC, Raheela Lakhany, Smoke Tokes, LLC, and Shafaq Aslam Sattar.

The fire on May 16, 2020 resulted in a huge fireball that injured twelve firefighters. The incident was caught on video and widely distributed. Captain Aguirre suffered catastrophic burn injuries, photos of which are included with the complaint. He has undergone 25 surgeries, including partial amputations of each of his fingers, and has been left permanently disfigured and disabled.

The complaint alleges that the defendants illegally stored large quantities of hazardous materials on the premises, including nitrous oxide (N2O) and butane. Quoting from the complaint:

  • In the subject incident, the storage of the EXPLOSIVE MATERIALS was related to the illicit drug industry.
  • The butane canisters unsafely stored on the PREMISES and involved in causing the fire ball and explosion event are utilized for, among other things, the illicit extraction of a form of hash oil called butane honey oil, often for use in counterfeit or unlicensed marijuana vape products.
  • The nitrous oxide canisters stored on the PREMISES unsafely in mass quantities and involved in causing the fire ball and explosion event are utilized as a recreational drug and known as, among other things, “whippits.”

The suit alleges liability under California Civil Code § 1714.9, strict liability for ultrahazardous activities, negligence, premises liability, and punitive damages. It was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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