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Investigators search for cause of huge blast that destroyed Nanaimo home

Several people were injured in the explosion, which some area residents initially thought was caused by a bomb going off.

Investigators are trying to figure out the cause of a huge blast that levelled an 800-square-foot house on Nanaimo’s Pine Street Sunday evening and rocked nearby streets, as debris was sent flying throughout the neighbourhood.

Some area residents initially thought a bomb had gone off.

Two people were taken to hospital after being hit by flying shards of glass. RCMP believe the house was vacant at the time of the blast, with its most-recent tenants evicted at the end of January.

Lisa Cook was on the couch in her nearby Pine Street home when “all of a sudden this huge boom went off and we were on the ground. We are on our living room floor.”

She remembers thinking: “Oh my God was it a bomb?”

“We didn’t get up for a couple of minutes because we thought the roof might cave in because we had no idea what was going on.”

When she did get up and go into the kitchen, “the rain was coming through my roof because all three skylights had blown off.”

Neighbours helped to cover the skylights.

The house that blew up had been used by squatters, and needles were left in nearby alleys, said Cook. She avoided walking near it, she said.

She wondered if the blast was caused by a meth lab, since volatile chemicals used in the drug-making process have resulted in explosions elsewhere.

Luke Antrim’s four children, ages two to 12, had just been put to bed, and he was watching a television documentary in his home about 450 metres from the explosion site when all of a sudden he heard a bang that “absolutely rocked our house.”

“I felt like I moved forward about a foot and moved back.”

He ran to check on the children and make sure the explosion had not originated in his house. Outdoors, neighbours were gathering, saying their windows had been shattered. Antrim went to the explosion site, which “reeked of natural gas.”

Roof shingles, pink insulation and downspouts were hanging from a nearby tree. Debris was spread over a radius of about 100 metres from the blast site and scattered in the next-door cemetery, he said.

The blast was heard throughout the city and several kilometres away.

Nothing but rubble was left on the site of the 1920 two-bedroom, one-storey house at 306 Pine St., adjacent to St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church on Machleary Street.

The house, assessed at $452,000, was owned by a person who owns another property on Pine Street.

On Monday, home-repair businesses were in the neighbourhood, where broken windows were boarded up.

Police and fire departments were at the scene within minutes of the 8:20 p.m. explosion and the area was cordoned off and streets temporarily closed.

When emergency crews arrived, they found a strong odour of natural gas coming from the debris, RCMP Const. Gary O’Brien said.

Fortis B.C. said the explosion damaged the home’s natural gas meter and gas was blowing out of it when crews arrived on Sunday night. Workers shut off the gas supply to the property and carried out additional tests at nearby properties, but did not find anything concerning, Fortis spokesperson Lauren Lea said.

Fire investigators were at the site on Monday to figure out what caused the explosion.

O’Brien said nothing has been ruled out, but the cause was most likely accidental.

The explosion knocked down a nearby power line and interrupted phone service for approximately 20 minutes to the RCMP detachment. No one was located in the debris field, O’Brien said.

A neighbouring home sustained significant damage from the blast and two of its occupants were taken to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital for treatment after being struck by shards of broken glass, O’Brien said.

Anyone with information about the explosion is asked to call the Nanaimo RCMP non-emergency line at 250-754-2345, and quote file #2022-6847.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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