Another explosion could happen in Wheatley, Ont.: Chatham-Kent Fire Chief
Officials are warning that there is a risk of a secondary explosion after a gas explosion in a building injured three people in downtown Wheatley, Ont. Thursday.
In an audio news conference Friday, Fire Chief Chris Case admitted there is a risk of another explosion in the small community.
“I have no idea how we can stabilize the situation,” Chief Case said.
Late Thursday, a gas explosion levelled one building, destroyed part of another and four or five other buildings on the street are “structurally unsound” according to Case.
An evacuation was underway when the building exploded.
More than 100 people from the municipality responded to the blast, three were injured. Two were involved in the evacuation and one was monitoring gas levels.
One staff member is still in hospital after having emergency surgery late Thursday with unidentified injuries; however, officials say the surgery went well.
Two others were treated at hospital, but officials only know that one of them was released.
The status of the third victim is unknown.
Officials will not say if the victims were firefighters or municipal staff.
Case says 20 people in total were seen by paramedics, 13 were treated and released at scene.
Officials describe all of their injuries as not life-threatening but that they’ve had a very stressful 24 hours.
Case expressed frustration that his firefighters are continually going to the area to protect residents, and are putting themselves in harm’s way for a situation they can’t contain.
“To be clear, I need someone to come and ascertain where this gas is coming from and how we’re going to stop it before we can do any work on site,” says Case.
“We literally have a rubble pile with a poisonous, toxic, corrosive and explosive gas coming up through the floor."
Case describes the scene as “total devastation” and it remains unstable.
“Unacceptable, for the people of Wheatley to be living in fear,” said Chatham-Kent Mayor Darrin Cannif.
He says gas is still present at the scene and asks “everyone to stay away from there, please don’t go gawking. It is an unsafe area. Please stay away.”
Canniff urges residents to call 911 if they smell gas.
There has been a history of gas leaks in the community. In the 1930s, there was an explosion on the same block a little further north, according to Chatham-Kent Chief Administrative Officer Don Shropshire.
“We’ve been told by some private sector folks that the most probable case might be an abandoned gas well,” he says.
Shropshire says the gas reading H2SG is still being detected at the site of the explosion.
Officials are hoping residents will check their home surveillance cameras to see if there is any footage they can use for when they start the investigation into why the gas exploded.
He believes it’s up to the Government of Ontario to “stand up and take a leadership role” in the investigation.
Since the gas was first detected in June, there have been three evacuations of the area and officials say the province has not reacted with “sense of urgency” they had hoped for.
Officials says its “most probable” the gas is coming from an abandoned gas well.
“We believe that the provincial government has a direct responsibility to deal with things, like, specifically an abandoned gas wells” says CAO Shropshire. “What the cause is what, if anything, can be done to mitigate that.”
Local officials say they will be meeting with the Ministry of Natural Resources Friday at 1 p.m.
Shropshire says the ministry has been working on a plan for the Wheatley gas.
“In hindsight, we would have loved to have had that started in June,” says Shropshire. “It’s taken longer than we would ever have wanted.”
- With files from CTV Windsor's Chris Campbell