Wheatley residents allowed back home after two-week evacuation even though ‘We cannot tell people it's safe’
WINDSOR, ONT -- Municipal officials are “shrinking” the evacuation order down to just two properties and allowing all 31 residents to return home.
“We can’t carry this on forever,” Chatham-Kent Fire Chief Chris Case told CTV News Saturday.
“We cannot tell people it's safe. We can tell people that there was a risk, that risk is still there but the actual gas is no longer present that’s all we can tell them.”
On June 2, 2021, a hydrogen sulphide gas leak was detected inside 15 Erie St. North in Wheatley.
Chief Case describes it as 'toxic and highly explosive gas coming out of the ground in sufficient quantities that it could have exploded.'
First responders shut off all utilities to a block of buildings at Erie and Talbot, evacuated 31 residents and closed 12 businesses.
Chief Case says firefighters have been on scene ever since testing the entire perimeter every 15 minutes for gas.
It has been a costly emergency according to Chief Case.
“At least two to $4,000 a day just for wages, for Fuel. We’ve had at least two fire trucks here the entire time.”
No gas leaks have been detected for two weeks so on Saturday the municipality and first responders started to escort residents and business owners back to their properties.
One of them is Domenik Mier, who came to Essex County from Mexico for work.
“At the first time it was kindof hard because it was all of a sudden, we didn’t know like what are we going to do?”
Mier says he and three roommates didn’t know anyone in the area so his boss stepped in offering a place to stay and food to eat.
The Municipality of Chatham-Kent assisted residents with food vouchers and finding lodgings for the last two weeks and has now set up a resource centre for evacuees to help them get back on their feet.
“I think the village is still concerned about it, is it gone? Is it not gone?” Says George Imeson, with the Royal Canadian Legion, located within the evacuation zone.
Imeson says fortunately a local company took their frozen food before the evacuation started so the Legion isn’t facing a significant amount of food lost.
But Imeson says it's been a challenging two weeks.
“It's just been horrendous for the whole year. COVID and now this.”
Officials expect to have all evacuees back home or in their businesses by the end of the day Saturday.
However two properties will remain closed indefinitely; 15 Erie St North where the gas was initially detected and 5 Talbot Rd East, which is right beside.
“There’s an expert gas monitoring company in there right now, taking readings at the source where we know where the gas came from initially to see if there’s any more signs of gas," says Chief Case who won’t speculate on when those buildings might reopen.
Municipal officials say they know there are two decommissioned gas wells and one decommissioned water well in the area.
“This is a new one for me after 29 years of leaving a scene,” says Chief Case.
“I still don’t know where the gas came from. No one can tell me that.”
Imeson and Mier both say they are fine with returning home and believe the situation has been handled.
“Nobody is guilty of this...It's nobodys fault. So we’re just like flowing with the waves," says Mier.
“Why worry about something you can’t control?”