Multiple agencies raided a Paonia-area home Tuesday, finding an alleged drug lab at which either methamphetamine or ecstasy may have been manufactured.

The law enforcement response prompted an hours-long closure of Colorado 133 in the area, as well as an order for nearby schools to have their students shelter in place, Delta County Sheriff Mark Taylor said.

Specially certified teams from California and Salt Lake City arrived to secure the alleged lab and neutralize any hazards. Wearing full haz-mat gear, the team entered the garage where drugs were reportedly being manufactured and conducted clean-up.

“From what I’m being told, it’s a large, sophisticated lab,” Taylor said.

The Delta County Sheriff’s Office last week received a tip concerning possible drug activity at the Paonia-area residence. Further investigation yielded enough information to pass along to the Drug Enforcement Administration, and for a search warrant, which the DEA served Tuesday, with the DCSO, other agents and Mesa County Sheriff’s Office tactical teams.

“A lab was located in a garage. It’s unclear whether it’s a meth lab or a MDMA (ecstasy) lab until they test the chemicals,” Taylor said.

He said a man thought to be renting the Paonia property had been located in Michigan, and there was being held on drug allegations. Because the investigation was being conducted by others Tuesday, Taylor did not immediately have the suspect’s name and did not immediately have information as to what else may have been discovered as part of the warrant.

The sheriff said a woman was at the home when task forces arrived with the search warrant, but her level of involvement, if any, was unknown.

Home-based drug labs, once common in Colorado, began disappearing once new laws restricting the sale of meth’s active ingredients went into effect about 14 years ago. The production of drugs like meth largely shifted to cartels south of the border.

“There’s evidence of a lab. It’s very unusual. What makes it very unusual is the size of the lab that’s been reported,” Taylor said, adding the DEA agents couldn’t readily recall the last time they had seen such an operation in the area.

Drug labs pose environmental and public safety risks.

“The chemicals that are involved in the manufacture (of drugs), whether meth or ecstasy, are extremely hazardous. They’re a hazard to public safety. That’s why we’ve taken the precautions that we have,” Taylor said.

“Our investigators did an outstanding job on following up on the information they were given. Through the cooperation of our local, state and federal agencies, we were able to accomplish this in a safe manner,” he added.

“We may have inconvenienced the public by shutting down Highway 133 for a short time, but we did it for the safety of all of the community, plus the officers and agents on scene.”

Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist and the senior writer for the Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter @kathMDP.

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