City fire uncovers meth lab

PHILIP A. HOLMES/Sun-Gazette Two members of a state police clandestine lab team work Saturday at the scene on Friday’s night fire at a rooming house on West Edwin Street.

A 22-year-old city man operating a makeshift methamphetamine lab in his bedroom at a rooming house on West Edwin Street admitted he was “cooking meth” in the room late Friday night when a fire suddenly erupted, city police said.

Axel Greene was burned in the fire that broke out at 630 W. Edwin St. about 11:50 p.m. and was hospitalized overnight at the burn unit at the Lehigh Valley Hospital.

Upon being discharged late Saturday afternoon, he was incarcerated in Lehigh County on a city police warrant charging him with causing or risking a catastrophe, manufacturing a controlled substance and related offenses. He was expected to be arraigned Monday.

Greene was the only person injured in the fire, which was brought under control in a matter of minutes by city firefighters. Fire headquarters on Walnut Street is just behind the house, where fire people lived.

Another tenant, who lived in the building, Alfred Smith, 26, was in his bedroom, across from Greene’s, when he heard all kinds of commotion outside the room.

“I heard a loud bang at first. It sounded like someone falling down the stairs,” Smith, a Penn College student, said.

“I then heard glass breaking,” Smith said, adding he thought someone was breaking into the home.

“As soon as I opened my door, I saw white smoke. Then the entire second floor started filling up with smoke,” Smith said as he stood outside the house watching firemen walking in and out of the building.

“Black smoke was billowing out from the sides and under the door (of the bedroom across from his). I’m not sure what was on fire,” he added.

“I heard someone running out the back door,” he said.

Soon after the fire was extinguished, investigators learned that Greene was being treated at UPMC Susquehanna Williamsport Regional Medical Center.

“Greene told investigators he was involved in the fire and that he was injured while ‘cooking meth,’ “ police said.

A state police clandestine lab team responded and safely collected and disposed of various hazardous products used in the production of methamphetamines.

The local chapter of the American Red Cross was assisting the four other displaced tenants. The house was ruled by the city codes department as uninhabitable. There also was an inadequate number of smoke alarms in the building.