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News :: International
Massive evacuation follows blast in Toronto
10 Aug 2008
Thousands out of home after early morning fireworks at propane depot in city's northwest...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.
August 10, 2008
Noor Javed
staff reporters
Michele Henry

At least two rail line tankers, each potentially containing 220,000 litres of propane, are being cooled by firefighters in feverish efforts to thwart another masssive explosion, like the ones that jarred thousands from slumber early this morning in Toronto.

Thousands of people have been evacuated and an entire section of the city's northwest 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.

Scared residents were awoken by what they described as bombs and "warlike" sounds.

“The whole house shook,” said Jessica Arciero, still dressed in her pajamas after being evacuated.

"The power went out. The doors blasted open and so we ran to the basement."

She, along with countless others, were brought to Downsview Airforce base, by police, TTC and fire officials.

Authorities were alerted after a driver spotted smoke at Sunrise Propane, a local 24-hour propane dealer, as he was filling up his tanker.

Only minor injuries such as sprained ankles have been reported so far, and police are asking that anyone near the area - a 1.6 kilometre zone bounded by the 401, Sheppard Ave, Keele St., and Dufferin - leave.

“Take your pets, take your medication and anything else you need for the day," Neil Corrigan, of Toronto Police said. "If you know someone in the area, do not come to transport them."

Firefighters remain inside the danger zone to pump cool water into the tankers to try and relieve pressure buildup. Fires are burning around the tankers and firefighters are also working to contain them.

Water is being shipped in from far and wide.

"I wish I could say it’s a controlled burn," Toronto Fire division commander Bob O’Hallarn said.

"We’re trying to cool them down."

Officials are trying to determine how many tankers are in danger of exploding.

More than 120 firefighters are on the scene. Police cars are stopping traffic at highway and road exists — the 401 is closed both ways between the DVP and the 400.

Police are going door-to-door to make sure all affected residents are safe and everyone evacuates the area.

Evacuees, tired an frustrated, are asking why a propane dealership was so close to a residences.

“Why are these so close to homes?” asked Mary Hyde. “Every time we see them we get scared.” Police say air quality testing has been done and has revealed the air is not toxic.

Three subway stations have been shut down: Downsview, Wilson and Yorkdale. The Yonge-University-Spadina subway line will turn around at Lawrence station and buses within the perimeter of are no longer in service.

Toronto police have made York University the designated evacuation spot, according to Richard Fisher, the school's chief marketing officer for marketing and communications.

"It's a police operation, obviously, but we're cooperating fully right now," Fisher said.

"We got a call at 9:17 saying that York University will be designated as the evacuation site."

People are currently being sent to York's athletic facility - the Tait McKenzie Centre - which is located on the northwest end of the campus. It can be accessed from Shoreham Dr. (off Jane St.) or Northwest Dr. (off Steeles Ave.).

Tait McKenzie has one large gymnasium and several smaller ones.

Fisher said they are expecting "several hundred people," but could not confirm the building's capacity.

There are no reports of the cause.

“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.

with files from CP, Precious Yutangco

This work is in the public domain
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