A minivan exploded in a Winnipeg parking lot on Monday, sending an elderly man to hospital and damaging a number of vehicles nearby.

Emergency crews rushed to the scene in the Superstore parking lot at St.James Street and Sargent Avenue just before 11:30 a.m.

Car fire

A number of cars were damaged in the Superstore parking lot after one apparently exploded, sending a man to hospital in critical condition. (Brett Purdy/CBC)

A large plume of black smoke could be seen over the area from a long distance away.

"I was inside and on my way out [and] I heard a loud bang! And we saw this van right here — big fire," said Cesar Ignacio, whose vehicle was a few parking spots over from the fire.

"I was supposed to run and get my car, but I can't because the fire's already big."

Fire officials said an elderly man was the owner of the vehicle. He was taken to hospital in critical condition, but has since been upgraded to stable condition.

A child was in one of those neighbouring cars but was not hurt.

"It's absolutely amazing anyone made it out alive. The car in the centre of this explosion has literally been blown apart — the roof is gone," CBC News reporter Sean Kavanagh said at the scene.

"The impact was so great that the car behind it, the hood was knocked back."

A district fire chief on the scene said there was a propane tank in the back of the vehicle that exploded, but the exact cause is still under investigation.

Car fire

A car can be seen burning in the Superstore parking lot at about 11:30 a.m. Monday. (Submitted)

Platoon safety officer Doug Martin said there are rules in place governing the safe transport of propane tanks, including the ones commonly used in barbecue stoves.

"One of the things are you're not supposed to transport it in an enclosed vehicle. It's supposed to be transported in an upright position, that sort of thing. So what the contributing factors were to this, we don't know," he said.

Some shoppers said they could feel the blast from inside the Superstore and the Rona hardware store next door.

Danilo Patacsil, who captured video of the blast with his cellphone, said he was close enough to feel the heat from the fire.

Three vehicles on each side of the minivan appeared to be seriously damaged by the fire. Manitoba Public Insurance says it would cover the damages.