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Meth materials found near fire site

Jan. 11, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

CULLODEN -- Investigators found meth-making materials near a burned-out house in Culloden, prompting more questions about what ignited the early Wednesday fire that damaged it.

Firefighters saw heavy flames but no occupants at the Benedict Road residence when they arrived on scene just after 1 a.m. Wednesday.

Several hours later, a sheriff's deputy visiting the scene noticed a bag with burn marks across the street. The deputy examined its contents and found materials commonly used to make methamphetamine, said Cabell County Sheriff's Cpl. Steve Vincent.

Similar items were found in the backyard. Vincent said the ingredients are typically used in a shake-and-bake operation, also known as a one-pot method.

There has been no determination indicating a meth operation ignited Wednesday's fire, but Vincent said he has little doubt as to how the bag was burned.

"I can almost assure you the meth-making materials in the bag ... they were inside of that residence or directly outside," he said.

The vacant house was located in the 2600 block of Benedict Road, a rural route off Virginia Avenue and north of Interstate 64 in Culloden.

Timmy Chastain, assistant state fire marshal, classified the fire as suspicious Thursday afternoon. He described the bag as one used to hold diapers and said investigators need the public's assistance to close the case. He urged anyone with information to call the state's arson hotline at 800-233-FIRE. Tips can be provided anonymously, however a $5,000 reward exists for those providing information leading to an arrest and/or conviction.

Investigators lacked evidence Thursday to link meth to the fire's ignition, but Chastain said neighbors had suspected drug activity in the area.

Vincent also stopped short of determining a cause, but said experts generally list fire as one of the most volatile risks associated with mixing chemicals in a shake-and-bake operation.

"The container can rupture, and it basically turns into a blowtorch or flamethrower," he said.

Chastain said investigators believe a woman owned the house and lived there with her boyfriend. Neither occupant was there early Wednesday.

The house had no electricity. Chastain said investigators found battery-operated lights and a kerosene heater inside.

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