TORONTO Thousands of people are being evacuated from their homes following a series of massive explosions at a Toronto propane facility.
A series of explosions sent balls of fire and plumes of black smoke into the early morning sky Sunday and forced police to order the evacuation of a large number of frightened residents.
Highways were shut down and a no-fly zone was ordered over the area in northwest Toronto at Keele and Wilson.
Police urged people to leave their homes and for worried relatives to stay away. They said air quality testing showed the air is not toxic.
Witnesses who live near the Sunrise Propane facility in the northwest Toronto neighbourhood said they were awakened by a thunderous explosion and saw the sky light up bright orange before it turned black with smoke.
It was just a tremendous explosion and blew all the windows out of the house, just blew the house up, and I just managed to get out of there in time, said Robert Helman, who was covered in cuts and bruises.
Police, who were to provide more details from a command centre in the area at 8 a.m., reported at least two injuries.
A fire official said residents living in a 1.6-kilometre radius had been forced out of their homes.
Mr. Helman said he saw a huge fireball and heard multiple explosions, just before 4 a.m.
As he ran out of his house, a wave of a heat followed him.
Ricardo Oliveria, 24, was on the third floor of his house when he received a call from his girlfriend who heard the explosion and was frightened. He told her it was probably just a thunder storm, but then heard a blast.
My windows just cracked and they blew out, Mr. Oliveira said.
My whole room lights up orange and I look out. I live on the top floor so I had a perfect view. And I just seen a huge ball of flame hundreds of metres in the sky, big black pillars of smoke.
We got freaked out. My family woke up. They thought it was a plane that went down, he said.
The first explosion sounded like a loud thunderclap and could be heard at least seven kilometres away.
It was followed by a series of more muffled explosions.
Clouds of dark smoke could be seen billowing hundreds of metres into the air and were visible from the 401 highway. Provincial police began closing all access to Highway 401 between the Don Valley Parkway and Highway 400 at about 7 a.m.
Shortly afterward, Toronto fire services division commander Bob O'Hallaran said there were still some tankers in flames at the site.
We're working on cooling those down, said Mr. O'Hallaran. And we're evacuating the area as a precaution.
Mr. O'Hallaran said some houses were damaged.
An emergency worker with Bombardier, which has a facility in the area, said he saw houses on fire. The worker, who did not want to be identified, also said he saw propane tanks dropping from the sky.
The worker said the propane supply was shut down, but warned there could be more explosions until the remaining propane in the tanks is burned.
Police brought in buses to take residents out of the area to the Yorkdale shopping centre southeast of the scene of the explosions.
Some people moved away from the danger zone were wearing masks.
Police with megaphones were warning residents that the air was toxic and they should leave immediately.
Some terrified residents walked to the shopping mall in their pyjamas. Mall security helped keep them calm and offered them a place to rest.
Police said there were workers at the propane facility, but it wasn't known how many or if they were safe.
Scores of police and emergency vehicles were on the scene trying to keep people out of the danger zone. A police spokesman said officers had been dispatched from all divisions.
A city taxi driver said he and his co-workers fill up their cabs at Sunrise Propane Industrial Gases, which also provides 24-hour emergency service.
The company's website says it also serves residential, industrial and agriculture clients. The industrial gas it supplies includes nitrogen, propane, helium and argon. Sunrise Propane also provides safety training for propane and dangerous goods certificates.