Firefighters in Winnipeg say they have gained the upper hand on a massive blaze that tore through a racing fuel plant on Monday, prompting officials to briefly order the evacuation of about 100 nearby homes.

The fire started at about 5:30 p.m. CT Monday at 40 Nicolas Ave. — the address for Speedway International Inc., which manufactures Pro Comp Racing methanol racing fuel. 

The fire produced giant plumes of black smoke and numerous explosions and fireballs, and a thick chemical smell lingered in the air Monday evening.

City police blocked traffic from entering most of the St. Boniface area on Monday night, and homes within a one-kilometre radius west of the fire were evacuated as a precautionary measure.

But by 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, the City of Winnipeg tweeted that the evacuation order had been lifted and displaced residents could return to their homes.

City officials told reporters the fire had been brought under control, although it was not completely extinguished.

Flammable chemicals inside

Fire platoon chief Ted Kuryluk said along with racing fuel, the facility's warehouse contained many more unknown flammable chemicals.

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Fire officials said residents shouldn't worry about smoke from the fire because the materials in the plant are clean-burning fuels. (Nik Harder)

Kuryluk said besides the smoke and huge flames, intense heat from the blaze kept crews away from the building for much of the night.

"It looks more like a bomb had hit it. It's actually burned and melted right down," he told reporters late Monday evening.

"There is a tremendous amount of heat that had been put through the whole building."

Crews had been in a defensive mode for most of the evening, meaning firefighters did not enter the fire zone due to concerns about explosions.

But Kuryluk said fuel that was inside the warehouse had burned down enough to allow crews to get closer to the fire with a foam truck borrowed from the Department of National Defence's 17 Wing base in Winnipeg.

"It had burned itself out to the point where it just became safer, and that wasn't until we had the military crash truck in there to start putting water and extinguishing agent and foam on the building itself," he said.

No injuries have been reported to date.

Kuryluk said the blaze is the largest fire Winnipeg has seen for almost 25 years, when another chemical fire erupted in the same St. Boniface industrial park in 1990.

Fire evacuees

Emergency officials said the evacuation area they identified on Monday was based on wind conditions at the time and the location of possible fuel sources.

While most residents who had to leave their homes on Monday night stayed with family and friends, a small number of people went to the Fort Garry Curling Club, which has been set up for fire evacuees to arrange their accommodations.

"This sucks. I want to go home. I haven't eaten yet, worked hard all day, I'm still in my work clothes [and] was expecting to go home," said Ronnie Plamondon, an area resident who went to the curling club.

Earlier in the evening, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and the City of Winnipeg urged the public to stay away from the site, as firefighters are concerned about spectators potentially getting hurt.

However, fire officials said people should not be worried about smoke from the fire being toxic, saying that the materials in the plant are clean-burning fuels.