A massive burst of flame lit up the skies over tiny Beardmore, Ont., late Saturday, as a section of the TransCanada PipeLines gas mainline ruptured and exploded.
No one was hurt in the blast but residents of Beardmore, a town with a population of 325 people located 170 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, were roused from their beds by the blast just after 11 p.m. ET.
"It was a big huge rumbling noise," Beardmore resident Sandra Lance told CBC's Gary Rinnie. "My husband jumped out of bed and ran to the window to look. He goes 'Oh my god the pipeline blew up.' Then he’s just yelling at me to get dressed and said 'We’re getting out of here, now.'"
Lance and her husband live about one kilometre from the blast site. They jumped into her car, not knowing how widespread the blast was or whether it could reach the house.
"I scrambled to get some clothes on, jumped in the vehicle with our pets, went over to my mother's, picked her up. We drove just outside of the explosion area. It was huge flames in the air. The whole town was pretty well awake. I could see the ambulance driving around, the fire trucks — there was people all over the place."
Pilots of airlines flying overhead told the Winnipeg airport they saw an orange ball of fire just west of Beardmore, which became part of the amalgamated town of Greenstone in 2001.
People living in the first four blocks closest to the blast evacuated the area and stayed at the local arena until the blaze was under control.
James Miller, a spokesperson for TransCanada PipeLines, told CBC News on Sunday that the explosion was caused by a rupture in the line. Miller said it's not known what caused the line to rupture.
"Once we can get on the scene, once it’s safe, we’ll take a look at the lines and try and figure out what occurred," Miller told CBC News.
He said TransCanada workers in Calgary were able to remotely detect a pressure drop in the line near Beardmore just after 11 p.m. ET. They were able to remotely close valves on either side of the blast, but residual gas inside the line allowed it to continue burning throughout the evening until eventually burning itself out at 7 a.m.
Miller said three gas lines run parallel along that section of the pipeline, and it was the middle line that ruptured.
"We’re pleased this occurred two kilometres away from Beardmore and the nearest residence, so there was no danger to the public and no one was hurt," said Miller.
Miller said that section of the gas line was built in 1956, but said every section of the line undergoes regular annual maintenance.
Highway 11 near Nipigon and Longlac remained closed because of the incident.
Kim Brunet was at home in Beardmore when she saw the bright light created by the fireball.
"All of a sudden the house started shaking and the windows were shaking, and my curtain fell off the door and then it started getting light," she told CBC News.
"I thought, my God, it's a fireball coming and it's the end of the world. It was still getting brighter and I couldn't see anything, so I looked out my sister's window and I thought it was the guy's house on the next street that blew up, but it wasn't."
Brunet said she joined other residents outside where they could feel the heat of the fire. Some thought a plane had crashed.