After a motorist reported a cloud of smoke drifting across a Santa Ana street early Saturday morning, firefighters discovered a leaking 5-foot cylinder of hydrogen chloride, a hazardous chemical used in the production of methamphetamine.
Authorities immediately cordoned off a six-block area and evacuated about 60 people from residences in the 1900 block of West 17th Street, where investigators later discovered a meth lab. No one was injured, and residents were allowed to return to their homes Saturday afternoon.
"This was a lab where the final part of the process of making meth took place," said William Lackey, a Fire Department spokesman.
The gas cloud was reported about 3:30 a.m. Firefighters arriving at the scene saw a vapor cloud and traced the gas to a cylinder behind a garage of a duplex.
Lackey said such leaks are becoming more common and are leading officials to an increasing number of labs in Orange County. Officials said they find labs about once a month.
Officials said they will continue to investigate the lab, but Lackey said "chances are slim" officials will catch the drug makers.