What are my neighbors exploding?!
February 25, 2010 8:25 AM   Subscribe

What could my neighbors be doing that would cause explosions that shake our house (across the street and set back a ways from the road, in a rural subdivision)?

A year ago, after two house-shaking explosions, their trailer burned down quite spectacularly -- flames that were higher than the utility poles. It smelled horrible for days, acrid, burning plastic awfulness that crept in through the drafty windows of our old, old house.

Since then, they've had fires in the burnt-out shell of the old trailer, often with accompanying horrible smells. Once, we were outside burning wood and they were burning their stuff (?), and we heard a few smaller explosions. My spouse went to check it out and reported that they had said it must have been an aerosol can. That might be plausible, but hours later that night, there were two explosions that shook the house and woke a houseguest. I called 911, who helpfully told me to call back when something was on fire.

Tonight we heard another explosion of the house-shaking variety. My spouse called the non-emergency number and was told they'd send somebody out, but there's been no sign of them.

What the heck is going on? Give me your explanations, from the quite possible to the not-very-likely. What explodes THAT loud without killing them or setting stuff on fire?

You can reach me at thingsthatmakehouseasplode@gmail.com .
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (40 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Meth lab?
posted by InsanePenguin at 8:28 AM on February 25, 2010 [27 favorites]

Maybe they're trying (spectacularly unsuccessfully) to manufacture crystal meth and their makeshift lab keeps exploding on them? I hear that's not all that uncommon...
posted by Rewind at 8:29 AM on February 25, 2010

In all seriousness, if the police aren't doing anything call your local news and tell them about the explosions and the fact that police won't do jack.
posted by InsanePenguin at 8:29 AM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Aerosol cans in fire do make for pretty impressive explosions. Hell, even a sealed soda can in a fire can make a pretty big boom. Perhaps fortunately for you, they both produce shrapnel as well, so maybe it won't be a problem for too much longer?
posted by craven_morhead at 8:30 AM on February 25, 2010

Meth lab would explain the explosion and the smell, but it would tend to burn your house down too. Alcohol stills tend to explode with a lot of noise and force but are largely self-extinguishing.
posted by Oktober at 8:30 AM on February 25, 2010

My first instinct was also meth lab.

They could be tossing aerosol cans in a fire for a boom.

I also have some friends with a home made cannon.
posted by bitdamaged at 8:31 AM on February 25, 2010

Gas tanks exploding? That caused a trailer to burn down in my parent's park years ago...
posted by WeekendJen at 8:33 AM on February 25, 2010

Fireworks? Or M80s or something similar?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:33 AM on February 25, 2010

Seconding the cannon idea, for example a spud gun. I know those produce a loud explosive boom.
posted by collocation at 8:36 AM on February 25, 2010

Check state laws (you don't mention which one) about burning garbage or other hazardous materials. Many have laws against deliberately lighting fires for the purpose of garbage disposal.

I'd imagine a call to the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) would have someone pay attention. Things going boom are generally not something that should be happening in a residential setting. The Feds frown on people blowing things up without appropriate permits. That and you probably don't want the hassle of the news crews coming and parking their trucks all over your lawn interviewing you about that terrorist neighbors of yours...
posted by wkearney99 at 8:40 AM on February 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

They could be making backyard jet engines, but I doubt it.

My guess is they're pyros just having some fun with fire. You're real problem is not "what are they exploding?", you're problem is that you can't get them to stop. Have you tried talking to them about it at least? If they continue to do it, I'm sure a complaint to the police would at least put them on the map.

If it was a meth lab, I would assume the huge trailer fire would have tipped off the police.
posted by Think_Long at 8:40 AM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Look, it could be meth, but I doubt they're cooking it in "the burnt-out shell of the old trailer". When their trailer burned down, did the fire department come out? If so, the fire was investigated and would have been arrested if it was meth-related.

It's more likely that these people just like to blow shit up. Lots of pressurized things will make a goodly-sized explosion.

also, i seem to recall a boy in high school who spent lots of time putting styrofoam in laundry detergent or gasoline.

posted by muddgirl at 8:41 AM on February 25, 2010

some people use black powder to blow tree stumps out of the ground.
posted by reverend cuttle at 8:47 AM on February 25, 2010

Maybe try the fire department instead of the police? They can get pretty interested in explosions.
posted by shothotbot at 8:54 AM on February 25, 2010

A burning plastic smell is a classic meth lab sign, as are acrid smells of rotton eggs, urine or nail-polish remover. If any of those sound familiar, it's a meth lab.

Police are always the best to call about meth lab or explosions. They have the bomb units (or can get them) and can task a hazmat team (which is fire) if necesary.
posted by bonehead at 9:06 AM on February 25, 2010

Do you live in Chatsworth?
posted by The otter lady at 9:06 AM on February 25, 2010

Definitely call the Fire Department. If they are anything like the department around here, they will come out and check it out. I probably had the fire marshal visit every 2-3 weeks last Summer because one of my lovely neighbors constantly called for the fires we had in our backyard (legal, small, campfires). And this guy said he was absolutely obligated to check out these complaints because it could have been more than a fire. He took it in stride and explained, alas, that while he had no problem with the fire he would have to enact a fine next time because he had to do his job.

So yeah call the Fire Department. Somebody will likely just show up to ask your neighbors for an explanation.
posted by deacon_blues at 9:07 AM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

A burning plastic smell is a classic meth lab sign

It's also a classic "burnin' down the ol' trailer" smell.
posted by muddgirl at 9:14 AM on February 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

As someone who grew up hanging out in a rural subdivision with the local pyromaniacs, I can remember some pretty ridiculously huge explosions being generated by "innocent" fun and games with volatile chemicals. (The fire department never was summoned or, if they were, never came calling, for the simple reason that the people generating the huge explosions were IN the fire department.)

My first instinct was "meth lab," but upon re-reading it sounds like your neighbors are just garden-variety people who like to set stuff on fire and sometimes cause explosions. I would try to have a polite talk with them (emphasis on polite, since these people obviously have access to explosives combined with a total lack of good judgement) before summoning in the authorities; neither of you probably want full-scale neighbor wars. But if they're going to continue to be assholes blowing shit up, keep calling the fire department and/or police, and maybe the news as well if your local cops aren't responding. (And, bear in mind that if your town is anything like my town was, the local cops probably aren't coming because they know that that's just their second cousin Cletus throwing Molotov cocktails around in his trailer again, and they don't want to deal with the hassle. I'm not saying that this excuses them from doing their job, but just take that possibility into account when trying to deal with the lack of police response to this problem.)
posted by kataclysm at 9:15 AM on February 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

nthing "ask them wtf is exploding"
nthing "possible meth lab, be careful"
posted by tehloki at 9:23 AM on February 25, 2010

"Look, it could be meth, but I doubt they're cooking it in "the burnt-out shell of the old trailer".

This could exactly what they are doing.

Also, the new television show called "Breaking Bad" has pretty much this exact plot line:

"Walter White, a chemistry teacher with a pregnant wife, Skyler, and a son with cerebral palsy, is diagnosed with stage-three terminal lung cancer. Determined to develop a sufficient inheritance for his family before his death, Walter enters the drug trade using his chemistry knowledge to cook remarkably potent methamphetamine (crystal meth) with Jesse Pinkman, a former student. Operating out of a recreational vehicle in the desert"

posted by stealabove at 9:27 AM on February 25, 2010

Possibly Tannerite? A binary exposive detonated by the impact of a bullet. The separate components are available through mail order. As soon as they are mixed they are considered an explosive and cannot be trasnposrted.
posted by Crashback at 9:48 AM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

seconding call the fire department or state forestry service. both have interests in keeping improper fires down.
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:51 AM on February 25, 2010

I think more information is needed. Are they artist types? Are they building stuff? Are they tweaky and unfriendly?
posted by Vaike at 10:30 AM on February 25, 2010

Aside from the fact that all meth users/manufacturers are not "tweaky and unfriendly," so analyzing their personality might not help you here, I would nth meth lab here.
posted by k8lin at 11:04 AM on February 25, 2010

I watch Breaking Bad, actually, and can attest that Walter White would never stoop to cooking meth in the burned-out shell of a trailer. He cooked meth in a perfectly functional trailer.
posted by muddgirl at 11:21 AM on February 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Our car was stolen for three days last year. When we got it back, it was full of homemade crack pipes and other drug paraphernalia. It stank of burnt plastic; the cops said that was meth.

That said, the burnt plastic smell you experienced was probably the insides of the trailer -- but it's odd that the police don't want to investigate. Any small local newspapers you can set onto this?
posted by vickyverky at 11:40 AM on February 25, 2010

Sounds like a meth lab to me.
posted by number9dream at 11:56 AM on February 25, 2010

Given the trailer circumstances I doubt this is it, but - there's an apartment building on my block with a faulty HVAC system that produces occasional explosions. It goes boom, someone calls the police and fire department, they issue a citation and tell the building owner to fix it, they don't, lather, rinse, repeat.

But really - meth lab.
posted by chez shoes at 11:58 AM on February 25, 2010

I wonder if they are collecting old consumer electronics and burning them to extract the metals.

The prices are getting up there to the point it might not be just for Chinese peasants anymore-- plus they could be collecting money on the front end by taking it off the hands of people who would otherwise have to pay steep hazardous waste recycling fees.

In this scenario, the explosions would actually be implosions from various evacuated tubes.

The problem is, CRT implosions wouldn't seem to be powerful enough to match your experience. I'm not sure, I haven't experienced any big ones (say an old Curtis-Mathis 24-incher).

But if you were incinerating CRT's 10-15 at a time in the burned out wreck of an old trailer, when the first one went they would probably all let go in a chain reaction, and that might do it.
posted by jamjam at 12:17 PM on February 25, 2010

Seriously, call the DEA. This all screams meth lab to me, and you're screwed if something they do takes out the entire neighborhood.
posted by medea42 at 12:28 PM on February 25, 2010

Teenage boys enjoy burning and detonating things. Are your neighbors a family?
posted by y6t5r4e3w2q1 at 12:28 PM on February 25, 2010

Another vote for "people blowing things up". It can be a fun hobby. (not that I speak from personal experience)
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:34 PM on February 25, 2010

Around these parts people who are too dumb to make meth huff spray paint fumes. And I can see them throwing the empty can into the burn barrel to hide the evidence of their addiction. One of my neighbors had a propane tank (for a barbecue) explode because it was too near the huge trash pile he was burning. And another neighbor poured some gas in a coffee can and set it on fire to scare away the county building permit inspector. That was pretty loud.
posted by cda at 1:37 PM on February 25, 2010

Here's the only reason I'm not nthing meth lab.

Meth labs tend to blow up on a pretty grand scale. Meaning, there would be some evidence of things going boom other than just the "boom". For instance, screaming humans with no eyebrows and burns on their arms.
posted by Sophie1 at 1:38 PM on February 25, 2010

The trailer burning to the ground in spectacular fashion sounds meth lab-y. But if your neighbors regularly set off explosions big enough to shake your house and they are still alive then I think they are doing it on purpose. An aerosol can in the fire will not shake your house. Blowing up a homemade mortar would.
posted by fshgrl at 2:14 PM on February 25, 2010

The reaction of the Police department would lead me to believe it's just some guys blowing stuff up.

An Oxy-Acet mix or even just Acetylene in a regular latex balloon will make an ear shattering explosion with, when done properly, not much risk of injury.
posted by Mitheral at 4:10 PM on February 25, 2010

Whatever it turns out to be, you absolutely, positively must return and post a follow-up when you know more. TIA.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:25 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing Meth lab, although many years ago some neighbors created a house/destroying explosion playing with ether (cutting cocaine, i believe)

Then again, they could just be the area Bootleggers.
posted by markovitch at 6:02 AM on February 26, 2010

I'm late, late, late on this reply but I'm surprised it wasn't mentioned: they might be shooting RV propane cylinders for fun that they've scavenged or tossing them on a fire. Those cylinders are very common and create quite a big boom. Some neighbors were doing this once in the last place I lived and it was easily heard for half a mile.
posted by crapmatic at 3:41 AM on June 25, 2010

« Older San Francisco Financial District: quiet place for...   |   How do I get ready for "getting cut"? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.