Shipping container explodes in Saanich after propane leak

Cloverdale Avenue closed to traffic around 6:30 this morning

Like most mornings, Eddie Philp was on his computer bright and early, and with a direct line of sight to the yellow shipping containers at the construction site on the far side of Rutledge Park.

In an instant he felt the shockwave of an explosion, and then watched as a twisted metal door arced into the air, and lazily floated like a leaf – as much as a sheet of metal can float – down to the grass in the middle of the park.

“I watched the door fly 100 feet into the air and then float down 100 feet,” Philp said from outside his home at the corner of Rutledge and Scotia streets. “That steel door is like a bulkhead for a ship. It floated down, not with any speed, but it must be 200 or 300 pounds.”

This was the explosion heard around Victoria – people from Oak Bay to Dallas Road and across Saanich reported hearing the blast. Police say at 6:23 a.m., a barbecue propane tank exploded inside a shipping container at the Midtown Park condo project, which shattered windows and shot chunks of metal across the neighbourhood.

“The large explosion, which occurred in the centre of one of these very large steel storage containers, ripped the container apart, blew its doors off,” said Saanich Const. Gord Bedingfield. “The concussion wave actually broke windows around the neighbourhood.”

A propane barbecue had either been left on or was leaking in the container, Bedingfield said, and something ignited it. Police are still investigating the exact cause.

Shards of glass surrounded the apartment complex at 949 Cloverdale Ave., the nearest dwelling to the construction site. Quoryn Rees was just falling asleep after the night shift when she felt the earth move.

“I was just falling asleep and I heard a huge bang. The entire place shook. I started freaking out,” Rees said. “My cupboards exploded open, all the glass (from windows) was all over the floor.”

Rock blasting at Midtown Park has reverberated through the neighbourhood for months, although under heavy mats. Residents could tell this was different.

“I’d listened to blasting from the construction site,” Rees said. “This was bigger than before. It didn’t sound like the right kind of blast. It’s not a way to wake up to a Friday morning.”

“It sounded like TNT. They did a lot of blasting rock. It didn’t sound like a fire explosion, it sounded like dynamite,” Philp said.

There was one construction worker on site at the time, who was one container over when the explosion happened. The man, in his late 40s and a resident of Metchosin, received minor cuts and a concussion and was taken to hospital.

“They’re going to look at everything right now. We’re going to keep our eyes and ears open,” Bedingfield said. “Investigators from WorkSafe B.C. are looking at the scene to see if it was a spark perhaps or something that may have ignited this propane leak.”

The explosion shredded one yellow Alpine container, shooting big pieces across the worksite and into the park. The contorted container next to it acted as an office, said Troy Patterson, who works as a plumber at the site.

“It’s a very safe site, one of the cleanest sites I’ve worked on,” Patterson said. “All the WorkSafe regulations are enforced.”

Bedingfield said there doesn’t appear to be anything suspicious about the explosion. He added the early morning timing was lucky.

“Anybody on this road certainly would have been injured or perhaps killed by the concussion wave and the flying debris,” Bedingfield said, “as well as the park across the way. The timing was very fortunate for everybody.”

That is the sentiment of many residents in the neighbourhood. Mark Jackman, who lives on Scotia Street noted that today is a pro-D day for schools, and that later in the morning the park would have been crawling with kids.

Jackman said he assumed it was an earthquake. “I jumped up and thought it was an earthquake, and went to get my kids,” he said. “It was just huge. My bed vibrated. I felt the whole house rocking, enough to knock the pictures off the wall.”

Kate Pappas, who lives on on Inverness Street near the construction zone, also said it felt like an earthquake and the blast shattered windows in her building.

“If it was any later in the day people would have been out here. It’s so lucky (the explosion) was that early.”

–with files from Kyle Wells

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