Suspected Meth Lab Fire Destroys Apartments

PEKIN, IL -- Twenty-eight firefighters worked for hours this morning to fight a tenacious apartment fire believed to be caused by a methamphetamine lab explosion.

According to Pekin police Sgt. Carl Powell, the fire began about 2:30 a.m. with a loud explosion at 1412 S. 14th St., No. 2, the residence of Deanna L. Mibbs, 38, and her children.

Assistant Fire Chief Chuck Lauss said the fire was out at 8 a.m., with firefighters leaving the scene at 11 a.m.

Gregg S. Howell, 19, of 12694 Garman Road, was in Mibbs' apartment at the time of the explosion, said Deputy Police Chief Ted Miller.

Howell suffered serious burns, said AMT spokeswoman Deborah Worden. Apparently, one of his friends drove him to Pekin Hospital before AMT paramedics arrived on the scene, Worden said.

AMT then transported Howell to the burn unit at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, where he is listed in critical condition.

On Dec. 26, Pekin police arrested Howell for unlawful possession of a controlled substance when they allegedly found a coffee filter in his pocket that field-tested positive for meth. He was due to appear in court at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 23 for that offense.

Mibbs and her children suffered burns and were taken to OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria. An OSF spokesman said this morning that a total of five people, including Mibbs, at least two of Mibb's children, and another resident, Robert Abbott, were treated and released. It was unclear who the fifth person was.

According to Miller, Mibbs was arrested for illegal manufacture of a controlled substance. Due to her injuries, she was given a notice to appear in court at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 4. No other arrests have been made at this time, Miller said.

Rescue personnel evacuated or accounted for all the residents except one man. However, his car was not there, so it is thought that he wasn't there at the time of the fire, Powell said.

Eight apartment residents, two Advanced Medical Transport paramedics and one firefighter suffered minor burns and smoke inhalation, Worden said.

AMT transported three residents to Pekin Hospital and five residents to OSF, Worden said.

According to Deputy Fire Chief Dan Bonnette, about 15 minutes after the fire department arrived on the scene, firefighters noticed signs that the fire was about to progress to what firefighters call a "flashover," a rapid flare-up of the fire.

All firefighters were pulled out of the building moments before the flashover, but firefighter Lynken Toyne was still close enough to the flames that he inhaled heated gases, Bonnette said. Toyne was treated at Pekin Hospital and later returned to continue fighting the fire, he said.

AMT paramedics Brian Antolik and Tom Veatch also suffered smoke inhalation as they pulled three or four victims out of the fire, Worden said. Antolik was treated and released at Pekin Hospital, while Veatch was treated on the scene.

Despite firefighters' efforts, the fire still blazed in part of the apartment complex after several hours.

"It was very difficult -- very difficult," said Fire Chief John Janssen. "That roof -- you had to just wait for it to burn through. It had that rubber membrane."

The apartment building today is gutted and a total loss but with the outer walls still standing.

Debra Bridgman of DRG Properties, the apartment complex's landlady, said that on Dec. 30 Pekin police and firefighters responded to the report of smoke in the same apartment where this morning's fire started.

Staff writer Sharon Woods Harris contributed to this story.