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Meth lab fire breaks out in Curtis Apartments; man arrested

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Smoke filled a fourth-floor apartment and hallway at Curtis Apartments, 336 W. Main St., after flames erupted late Monday during manufacture of methamphetamine in the apartment.

The resident of Apartment 425, Steven W. LaClair, 45, doused most of the fire in his kitchen, according to the Watertown Fire Department.

No evacuation of the building consisting of 108 apartments was required, although firefighters had to use exhaust fans to clear smoke from the apartment and hallway. Most residents are elderly, with some handicapped. A first-floor resident said she was awakened by the internal alarm system, smelled nothing, assumed it to be an alarm malfunction and went back to bed.

“This could have been a lot worse,” said Jerry D. Golden, a member of the Metro-Jeff Drug Task Force, one of many police officers who responded to the scene. Highly flammable liquids are used in the “one-bottle cook” method that was in process in the LaClair apartment, he said.

Mr. LaClair was arrested by city police on charges of third-degree unlawful manufacture of methamphetamine, second-degree reckless endangerment and criminal possession of a hypodermic instrument. City Judge Eugene R. Renzi ordered him held in the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building, setting bail at $10,000.

Police documents indicate that Mr. LaClair possessed for the process Coleman fuel, a gas generator, plastic tubing, plastic funnels, a pipe cutter to remove lithium strips from batteries, which were combined with two chemicals, lye, cold packs and an empty box of a cold medication containing ephedrine.

Detective Golden said the task force in recent days had received information suggesting that Mr. LaClair was manufacturing meth in his apartment, but nothing substantial that would have justified a search warrant for a raid.

Mr. LaClair likely had accomplices in the Monday night process, the detective said, but they were gone by the time police and firefighters arrived.

There was fire damage to the kitchen floor, cabinets and plastic dishware. Mr. Golden said Mr. LaClair used baking soda and clothing to smother the flames. All that remained for firefighters responding to the 11:59 p.m. alarm was to douse was the smoldering clothes.

Mr. LaClair had black on his hands, but apparently was not burned, the detective said.

A state police Contaminated Crime Scene Emergency Response Team responded to continue the investigation.

Mr. LaClair was given a jail sentence last year for violating probation, cited after he was charged in the town of Brownville with seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, the synthetic drug calle glass cleaner. He had been on probation for a petit larceny conviction in August 2011. He pleaded guilty to the controlled substance charge in Brownville Town Court.

City property records list the apartment building’s owner as Curtis Apartments Association, Horsham, Pa.

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