Village of Queen Charlotte rattled by explosive fire

Bystanders said what began as a spot fire soon engulfed the roof and spread inside when it was fanned by the wind. (Fran Fowler/Submitted)
A cloud rises from the house moments after the explosion. (Fran Fowler/Submitted)
(Angela Anderson/Submitted)
(Angela Anderson/Submitted)
(Angela Anderson/Submitted)
(Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)
(Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)
(Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)
(Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)

It’s a miracle no one died.

That’s what RCMP Sergeant Terry Gillespie was thinking after a house fire triggered an explosion that rattled all of Queen Charlotte on Tuesday, Aug. 7.

Police and volunteer firefighters were called to the scene around 4:15 p.m.

When the blast came about 15 minutes later, it knocked some people off their feet and shot flaming debris into the air. Walls warped and windows cracked in nearby houses, and people as far as Skidegate and Sandspit heard the boom.

“I honestly cannot believe that nobody was more seriously injured than they were,” said Sgt. Gillespie, who was standing about 30 metres back from the house fire at 622 7th Street when the explosion went off.

Volunteer firefighters from Queen Charlotte and Skidegate were much closer, he said, maybe 10 or 15 metres away.

For the first few seconds, he actually thought they were lost.

“It literally felt like it took your breath away — it was just this insane concussive force,” said Jeff Quigley, who was among a group of bystanders at 7th and Oceanview Drive when it happened.

Thankfully, only minor injuries were reported.

“Everyone had a bit of hearing loss, but it seems to be coming back,” Gillespie said.

The blast also did some damage to the nearby firetrucks and sparked more spot fires on the surrounding homes at Spruce Point. But firefighters quickly regrouped.

“They did a bang-up job, both Skidegate and Queen Charlotte,” Gillespie said.

“I could see really good teamwork between the two of them. They definitely kept the whole block from lighting up.”

For over 24 hours, the two fire crews took turns hosing the smouldering fire in what was left of the house. Much of the siding melted off the house next door.

It wasn’t until the RCMP’s explosives disposal unit flew in and declared the scene safe that firefighters could bring in an excavator and finally extinguish the last of the debris.

Not only the homeowners but a neighbouring family was forced to stay with friends after the fire, and village staff are helping others deal with insurance claims for structural damage.

Oceanview Drive was closed to traffic until Wednesday night, and for three days village residents were under emergency water restrictions.

On Thursday night, the RCMP warned they had found live explosives scattered near the blast site.

Although explosives experts combed the scene, police released photos of what they found and asked the public to report any similar items to Q.C. RCMP without handling them.

A team of forensic investigators was also flown in to study the blast area, and while their site work finished last week, Sgt. Gillespie said it could be months before they finish a final report.

As of press time Monday, police have not laid any charges related to the explosion, but RCMP are investigating several possible offences.

To help make a timeline of events, the Village of Queen Charlotte is asking anyone with date/time-stamped photos or videos of the fire to drop them off at the village office or email them to office@queencharlotte.ca.

Anyone affected by the explosion and fire who would like to speak with a counsellor is invited to call Alison McDonald (250-280-7896) or Carrie-Lee Duke (778-361-0265) for a confidential appointment.


 


andrew.hudson@haidagwaiiobserver.com

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