KINGFIELD — Five people face drug charges after a mobile home that law enforcement believes was being used as a meth lab was gutted by a fire last month.

Investigators found remains of the methamphetamine laboratory at 8 Winter Hill Road where the fire broke out on Feb. 8, according to Matthew Cashman, a Maine Drug Enforcement Agency supervisor for the region.

Four men and one woman arrested last week face multiple charges stemming from the drug-making operation. Those charged are Joshua Bartlett, 25, of New Portland; Charity Christopher, 31, of Farmington; David Coffren, 31, of Kingfield; Seth Hinkley, 25, of Strong and Isaac Moody, 24, of Kingfield.

Cashman said the operation was a “shake-and-bake” laboratory, named after the technique of mixing chemicals in small containers to make the meth.

He said such labs — a number of which have been found in the state recently — are a danger to those living nearby and emergency responders who could be harmed by fires ignited by the volatile chemicals used in the process.

Drug agents have discovered three meth labs in Maine so far this year, not including the Kingfield one, according to the agency. That’s compared to five operations uncovered in 2011.

Bartlett, Coffren and Hinkley also each face an arson charge in connection with the fire, which did not result in any injuries, according to Sgt. Ken Grimes, of the fire marshal’s office.

Neighbors who live near the mobile home told investigators they heard an explosion and saw at least one person fleeing, Grimes said. The blaze gutted the mobile home, which is near several homes and a medical center. None of the other buildings were at risk from the fire, Grimes said Monday.

Investigators believe at least one person was home when the fire started and left the scene without notifying others of the danger, Grimes said. He added that investigators believe all three men charged with arson were involved in the drug making operation that day, making them all responsible for the fire.

Coffren, who rented the mobile home and lived there with his 4-year-old son, also faces a child endangerment charge, Cashman said. The boy was not home at the time of the fire.

Owner Aaron Knapp, of Farmington, said on Monday the property is being cleaned up.

“I had no idea what was going on there and we’re very grateful that no one was hurt,” he said.

Further arrests likely

Cashman would not discuss some details of the case, saying investigators continue to look into the extensive organization involved in making the drug that will probably result in further arrests.

The four men and one woman arrested each face a charge of unlawful trafficking in scheduled drugs, along with other individual charges.

Except for Hinkley, who was arrested earlier this month on a probation violation, the others were arrested Friday in Franklin and Somerset counties and taken to Franklin County Detention Center in Farmington, Cashman said.

Bartlett was released from jail Friday on a $5,000 unsecured bond. His next court date is May 25.

Coffren was released from jail Friday on a $5,000 unsecured bond. His next court date is July 20.

Hinkley, whose probation violation stems from a possession of a firearm by a felon charge, was being held in jail without bail conditions because of the probation violation, a jail official said. Jail records don’t say when he’s due in court.

Moody is also charged with trafficking in prison contraband. He was released from jail Friday after posting $1,000 cash bail, and is due again in court June 29.

Christopher also faces a charge of violating conditional release. She was being held at the jail Monday night on $750 cash bail, along with a condition that required prosecutors and court officials to agree to a pre-trial release contract, a jail official said.

Before her arrest Friday, Christopher had been out of jail on conditions tied to a deferred disposition sentence in 2010, Cashman said. She took a plea deal to settle a charge for making methamphetamine in New Vineyard, with the court ordering that she could avoid the most severe penalty by remaining free of further charges for several years, he said.

A growing problem

There has been a spike in the number of small meth labs in Maine in recent years, exposing more residents and emergency responders to the unique dangers tied to the drug’s production, according to Cashman.

Most operations involve a version of the volatile shake-and-bake, or one-pot, method, he said.

The technique allows people to produce small batches with household chemicals, and the materials used to make the drug can fit inside a backpack.

Because the operation is so compact, people will make the drug in cars, in the woods and in small homes. The method can ignite fires that spread rapidly and can cause sudden explosions, leaving emergency responders vulnerable, Cashman said.

But the state fire marshal’s office and drug enforcement agency cooperate to prepare emergency responders for the scenario.

In recent years, they have offered classes and other training services for emergency response agencies targeting the problem, Grimes said.

“These chemicals are extremely hazardous and extremely toxic and the risk to firefighters is great,” he said.

In general, however, the risk that people other than emergency responders are exposed to is minimal, according to Darrell Crandall, a division commander with the drug enforcement agency.

Crandall oversees the agency unit that investigates drug making operations. He said the small drug laboratories don’t use large amounts of chemicals and pose no immediate exposure risk to neighbors.

The public safety concerns arise when there is a fire, because it spreads the chemicals that can possibly spread the fire, Crandall said.

The state Department of Environmental Protection helps handle contamination and cleanup tied to a drug laboratory, he said. He added there were no concerns at the site in Kingfield.

Crandall believes recent spikes in methamphetamine laboratories are caused by a shift in supply, as opposed to growing demand.

In general, the demand remains steady and people addicted to an illegal drug will start making their own when they can’t find it elsewhere, he said.

David Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]


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