A Northland man who died as the result of a P-lab explosion had twice before been treated for serious burns from fires caused while cooking the illegal drug.
Police yesterday named the 49-year-old man who died from injuries suffered at an explosion at a rural property as Arthur Bruce Cornelius.
The fire began when a loud explosion startled residents and scattered stock on half a dozen lifestyle blocks near the junction of Opouteke and Takitu Rds at Pakotai, 50km northwest of Whangarei, about 7.45pm on Wednesday.
More explosions followed and flames several metres high produced a dense pillar of black smoke from the shed and a utility vehicle that caught fire beside it.
Locals tried to help two men caught in the blaze and bound their burnt limbs with plastic wrap. Emergency services arrived at the house and the men were flown to Whangarei Hospital.
Mr Cornelius died there on Thursday.
A 26-year-old man is in a stable condition at Middlemore Hospital where he is receiving specialist treatment for burns.
Northland police Detective Inspector Kevin Burke said officers had finished an intensive examination of the scene and confirmed evidence of attempted methamphetamine manufacture had been found.
The Northern Advocate archives show Mr Cornelius, while he was an inmate in Ngawha Prison, was a witness in the murder trial of Wayne Bracken last year. Bracken - described by a High Court judge as "dangerous and evil" - was jailed for life with a 21-year minimum non-parole for the murder of Aucklander Jack Davis on February 25, 2011.
A police officer who did not want to be named but had many dealings with Mr Cornelius said it was not the first time Mr Cornelius had been involved with a meth lab explosion and had previous convictions for methamphetamine and other drugs offences.
There were at least two other occasions at Kaitaia and another at a Kerikeri property where a lab had exploded while P was being cooked. He had been severely burnt both times.
His drug-dealing activities extended outside the Northland region as well.
Mr Cornelius was the "kingpin" in a massive cannabis operation in the Whanganui National State Park that was busted by police during Operation Ragwort in 1997.
The plot, with more than 6000 plants, was one of the biggest in New Zealand at the time and was so remote helicopters were being used to fly in those tending the plants.
"He's certainly been a person whose activities have been of interest to police for a very long time," the officer said.