At 3:49 a.m. on Sunday, August 10, this author was shaken awake from a heavy sleep. The photos hanging above my head banged against the wall. The windows in my bedroom shook. My bed swayed as if it were on an active fault line. It sounded like a long, rolling thunder overhead. Instead, little did I know at the time, that just 1.6 kilometres away a propane facility at Keele and Wilson in Toronto had burst into flames. The night sky was painted in orange, red and yellow flames. A massive fireball, almost A-bomb-like in its ferocity and image, stretched up into the sky, propelling parts of the Sunrise Propane facility all over the surrounding residential neighbourhood. It would take 35 hours for 140 firefighters to knock down the six-alarm fire. The bold quotes in this post are ones gathered during conversations and sitting in on a public meeting on August 14.
“WHEN THAT BLAST TOOK PLACE IT LOOKED LIKE BAGHDAD”
Five thousand homes were evacuated in the middle of the night, seniors, children, parents and pets headed for cover. Pieces of the facility rained down in a nearby graveyard, crushing headstones, smashing a bus shelter. Stores, schools, daycares and homes nearby had windows blown out. A 1.6 km evacuation zone was established, as fears of further propane tanks on site which had not gone off were steaming away.
“AFTER THAT FIREBALL CAME RIGHT AT ME, THOSE FIREFIGHTERS WERE EVACUATING US AND GOING TO THE FIRE TO PROTECT US, I THANK THEM SO MUCH.”
Since late afternoon on August 11, when the fire was finally knocked down, residents of the area have slowly been allowed to return to their homes. However, the wait and trauma from the night has left nerves frayed and anger boiling. What the residents have endured via the event and its aftermath has been disheartening. Poor communication on the part of the City of Toronto left too many people in the dark on a night when the night sky came alive with fire in Downsview. Six homes are still off limits.
“IT SOUNDED LIKE SOMEONE WAS KNOCKING AT MY FRONT DOOR BUT IT WAS THE PROPANE CANISTERS GOING OFF.”
Chunks of asbestos has rained down on some properties. Fears about what can be touched. Fears about who will pay for the damage. Fears of the propane facility being allowed to rise from the ashes have stirred intense emotions in the community. An employee at the facility died in the blast. A Toronto firefighter died while on scene fighting the fire. A resident died three days after the blast upon being allowed back home-the stress of the ordeal thought to be a factor.
“NONE OF YOU COULD IMAGINE WHAT WE SAW, WHAT THESE CHILDREN AND OLD PEOPLE SAW. IT WAS FIRE FALLING FROM THE SKY.”
Residents are looking for someone to be held accountable. The city’s zoning has come into question. The city says it is province that licenses such facilities. Finger-pointing and anger has ensued.
“A LOT OF US ARE UPSET AND STILL SHAKY. THE ANGER IS NOT PRODUCTIVE. OUR HOMES ARE STILL THERE AND WE ARE STILL STANDING. IT IS NOT A BAD THING- WE ARE ALIVE.”