RV that exploded, burned may have contained meth lab

Police: Woman who escaped fire arrested, charged with arson

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Investigators believe it may have been a meth lab that caused a recreational vehicle in Southside Jacksonville RV park to explode and burn late Wednesday morning, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. 

Police evacuated people in the immediate area while a hazmat team processed and cleared what was left of the trailer.

The woman who escaped said she was sleeping inside her boyfriend's unit at the Fleetwood Mobile Home and RV Park on Philips Highway, near University Boulevard, when the fire broke out before noon. She made it out unhurt before there was an explosion, and within minutes, the RV was gutted by the flames.

Investigators spent much of Wednesday afternoon trying to find out what started the fire, which sent up a column of black smoke that could be seen for miles. At about 4:30 p.m., police said six pots of methamphetamine and materials used to make the drug were found among the rubble.

JSO Asst. Chief Mike Johnson said the woman who escaped the fire was arrested and charged with arson, but didn't release her name. Police said the man living in the RV has not been found.

Jim and Peggy Grich, who were staying at the RV park as they travel the country, spotted the flames and ran to make sure everyone got out.

"I am, like, 'Oh my God. I hope nobody is in there. I'm pounding on the door and no one is answering," said Jim Grich, who provided News4Jax with video of the fire. "It could've been a lot worse. It's good that the fire company got here (as quickly) as they did."

Property manager Amber Korn said her boss used a fire extinguisher to try and control the flames until the first fire trucks arrived about two minutes later. Firefighters got the fire out before it could spread to nearby RVs, which have propane tanks.

"I'm glad everyone is OK. Want to make sure that everybody is safe here," Korn said.

The woman who escaped the fire told News4Jax she was OK, but wouldn't say anything else. The manager said the couple was to be evicted by the end of the month.

There was minor damage to the outside of the other RVs. A volunteer with the American Red Cross came by to check on residents. 

Steven LaForm, who lives with his father Steve LaForm in the RV next door, described the frightening experience when neighbors began to pound on their door, telling them to get out.

“Dad got his clothes on and we got out as fast as we could. I grabbed one oxygen tank, and actually, yeah just one oxygen tank and then hoped it didn’t spread to our house," Steven LaForm said. "And he’s panicking because the reason we live here to start with, is because our other house burned down. Our old house burned down, which is why we live in the RV."

Steve LaForm said the man living in the RV that exploded was up all hours of the night and was very noisy, but he never reported the neighbor. 

"These people had me up all night, screaming and hollering, slamming doors like they do every night," Steve LaForm said. "I thought they must have had meth in there or something."

Anyone with information is asked to call the Sheriff's Office at 904-630-0500. To remain anonymous, contact Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS.

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