It was an eye-popping series of explosions that stunned anyone awake to witness it.
“Big, big boom!” one shocked man exclaimed.
“The house actually shook, and the windows blew. The glass fell on my bed and I just started screaming,” one woman, near tears, described.
A huge swath of northwest Toronto was evacuated following the six-alarm fire early Sunday morning.
The blaze was triggered by a massive blast at a propane facility that sent huge plumes of smoke into the air and scattered debris for kilometres.
Watch this amazing video from viewer David Calleja – please note – profanity warning.
The building, belonging to Sunrise Propane Industrial Gases, blew just before 4am on Murray Road near Keele and Wilson. It’s a supplier of nitrogen, propane and helium.
CityNews cameraman Pedro Zucchet was close enough to the flames that he felt the blasts.
“When I was getting closer I could actually feel the explosions. I saw debris flying after each explosion. You felt the wave of heat,” he described.
Sadly, one Toronto firefighter succumbed to his injuries hours after the flames broke out, and one other person was still unaccounted for. As for area residents, incredibly there were no fatalities reported, only minor injuries.
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Anyone in the area bounded by Sheppard Ave. in the north, Highway 401 in the south, Allen Rd. in the east and Jane St. in the west was instructed to leave immediately following the blast, an evacuation advisory that was lifted after 8pm. Census data suggests that there could be as many as 12,500 people and 5,300 private dwellings in the 1.6-kilometre area around the explosion.
If you have friends or relatives there, stay away and try to contact them by phone. Evacuees were taken to York University where many would likely stay until late Sunday.
An evacuation hotline has been set up at York University for those trying to contact loved ones they believe have been forced to leave their homes. That number is 416-736-5185.
The Red Cross and the Salvation Army were on scene tending to any wounds, providing a hot meal and registering all the evacuees.
The Toronto Humane Society was also on hand to look after pets.
The evacuation was a precautionary measure, as an air quality check revealed the air was safe to breathe. However, officials wanted to ensure the area was completely safe before allowing people back to their homes.
By 9am, five hours after the initial blast, two tankers were still smoldering. One of the tankers was thought to have two feet of propane gas inside it.
However, by 11:30am, officials were much more optimistic, and as the day wore on it appeared firefighters were getting the better of the remaining hotspots.
Division Commander Bob O’Hallarn said given the impact of the blast, the city’s residents ‘got off very lucky.’
The blast lit up the pre-dawn sky, sending huge orange fireballs into the air and leaving mushroom-shaped clouds behind. Residents reported tankers launched into the air, while others thought it was an earthquake or a nuclear attack.
Mayor David Miller responded to the events in an afternoon conference call from Vancouver – he was scheduled to take an early flight back home to Toronto.
“The fire is under control at the moment, and I want to thank our emergency services, police, fire, and EMS, and city staff for their extraordinary and effective response to this very serious explosion,” he said.
“While the fire is under control, because of the serious nature of propane, we do not know at this time when people will be able to return to their homes. We hope to have further information later on today to assist. And I do want to thank the media for their assistance in getting the messages out to everyone affected. And I would like to also thank York University for being open to allow people and the city’s shelter and housing department to assist local residents.”
Area residents weren’t the only ones affected by the blast: traffic was snarled across the city for much of Sunday.
The 401 was closed from the 404/Don Valley Parkway to Highway 400 and cars could not get on or off the major thoroughfare.
TTC subway stops in the area were closed for a time, and bus routes were diverted.
A no-fly zone was ordered over the area in northwest Toronto at Keele and Wilson.
To see the geographic area affected by the evacuation, click here . (PDF file)
Top image courtesy viewer MCpl. Artur Galaj.
Propane is stored and transported in a compressed liquid form, vapourizing only when pressure is released.
The gas is an asphyxiant, meaning it cuts off oxygen to the body and can cause suffocation. Exposure to high levels of propane can cause a plethora of health problems, including frostbite if it touches skin.
It’s heavier than air, meaning it sinks in any enclosed area.
Information credit: The Canadian Press