Massive evacuation follows blast
Thousands out of home after early morning fireworks at propane depot
Thousands of people have been evacuated and an entire section of the city's north end has been completely shut down as emergency officials continue to fight a major fire at a propane distributor in the Wilson Ave. and Keele St. area, caused by a series of explosions just before 4 a.m. this morning.
At this point, official say the number one concern for firefighters are two large rail tankers on the property. Each tanker has the capacity to carry 220,000 litres of propane gas. Officials do not believe they are full but have caught fire throughout the morning.
“The tanks are venting and we have to cool them with water to prevent them from potentially exploding,” said Bob OHallarn, Toronto fire division commander.
Police say air quality testing has been done and has revealed the air is not toxic.
OHallarn said since the fire started, only one person has been transported to hospital, with a sprained ankle. However, there are several reports of people making their way to hospitals on their own.
A stretch of Hwy. 401 has been closed - between the DVP/404 and Hwy. 400 - as well as all ramps exiting and entering that part of the highway. A no-fly zone has been declared above the area.
There is a no-fly zone for small planes and Toronto airport has been alerted to ensure the safety of people arriving in Toronto, O’Hallarn said.
We have about 35 apparatus; 130 firefighters,” he said. “I believe we may have more than that for a while because we had a shift changeover, he said, explaining that both overnight and morning personnel are fighting the blaze.
Eyewitness accounts say explosions were so powerful that windows were knocked out, framed photographs hanging on peoples walls have been broken and there are reports of cars on fire.
(Damage includes) some vehicles on fire, damage to houses from the explosion across the street. Weve checked out the houses . . . so far, we have not found anyone injured in those houses, OHallarn said.
Weve treated some minor injuries at the scene . . . for minor cuts and bruises. We have notified all the local hospitals, said Peter McEntire of Toronto EMS.
It is unclear how many people were in the facility when the explosion took place. OHallarn said there was a driver on property loading his delivery truck and he saw some smoke. It does not appear he is injured.
There are no preliminary reports of what the cause was.
OHallarn said firefighters have had to get water from elsewhere because the fire is so big.
Anytime we have an; incident of this size, we are going to have to be bringing water from a fair ways away. The main (waterway) can only supply so much water. We are relaying water from other areas.
As of this point, the fire has not yet been controlled.
We are asking people that live within the area . . . please leave their homes at this point. If you have a home or a business, we ask you to leave and get to a place of safety, said Neil Correander of Toronto police.
People who do not have vehicles, the TTC is assisting us on the major streets . . . we ask people who are leaving their homes to please take any medication . . . anything you require to get through the course of this day.
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, Robert Helman told The Canadian Press, who was covered in cuts and bruises. As he ran out of his house, a wave of a heat followed him.
Eugene Koutcher, who lives about a kilometre south of the area, said the explosions woke him up to a huge orange fire early today.
I was just asleep and it was a huge explosion and I thought it was thunderstorm, he said. It was absolutely a huge explosion, actually a number of explosions.
An emergency worker with Bombardier, which has a facility in the area, told CP 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.