1 dead, 5 missing and presumed dead in Ottawa explosion and fire

Ottawa police say one person is dead and five are unaccounted for after Thursday's explosion and fire at an industrial business on Merivale Road.

Search of site continues, police do not believe any of the missing people survived

Ottawa explosion victim dies in hospital, 5 others presumed dead

7 months ago
Duration 2:46
An explosion at an industrial business in Ottawa has left one man dead and five other people missing and presumed dead. Another man is still in hospital in serious but stable condition.

Ottawa police say a man is dead and five people are unaccounted for after Thursday's explosion and fire at an industrial business on Merivale Road.

The five missing people are presumed dead.

Firefighters received multiple 911 calls Thursday around 1:30 p.m. about a large fire at Eastway Tank Pump and Meter Ltd., a manufacturer of custom tank trucks, in the city's Nepean area. Witnesses reported hearing large bangs coming from the site.

Ottawa police Insp. Frank D'Aoust said Friday one of the people taken to hospital died Friday morning, another was in serious and stable condition, and a third had been released.

D'Aoust said four men and a woman believed to be at the building at the time of the explosion are missing, and police don't believe they survived.

WATCH | Police provide update on victims:

One dead, five missing in Merivale Road fire, police say

7 months ago
Duration 0:54
Ottawa police Insp. Frank D'Aoust said one man has died and another five people are missing and presumed dead after the Thursday afternoon explosion and fire at a business on Merivale Road.

All 'good people'

No names have been officially released, but one of the victims is 57-year-old Rick Bastien, a longtime Eastway employee whose identity was confirmed to CBC News by his son Josh.

"He was the best dad I could ever ask for. I'm so grateful for the times we had together," Josh wrote in a text message.

A former Eastway employee himself, Josh Bastien also shed light on the other five victims, saying they were his friends and calling them all "good people."

In a statement to CBC, Eastway president Neil Greene said it was with "great sadness" that he'd learned of the fatal explosion and his "deepest condolences" went out to the company's employees and their loved ones.

"We remain in close contact with investigators, and we will co-operate with authorities on all ensuing investigations. We want to get to the bottom of what happened," Greene wrote. 

"I am completely [devastated]. To the families of our lost colleague and to all our employees, please know that Eastway Tank will be there for you without fail in the weeks and months ahead." 

WATCH | Major fire, explosion in Ottawa:

Video shows column of smoke from Merivale Road explosion, fire

7 months ago
Duration 0:29
Ottawa firefighters said they were battling a three-alarm fire on Merivale Road in Nepean Thursday afternoon.

When fire crews arrived at the burning building Thursday afternoon, employees had already started making their way out.

Crews battling to control the fire were told of the two patients taken to hospital with serious burns and that five employees were unaccounted for, according to firefighters with knowledge of the emergency response who spoke to CBC News on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

A "family reunification centre" was operating Thursday evening at the nearby Woodvale Pentecostal Church.

'I thought there was an earthquake'

D'Aoust said friends and family of the missing had been notified and offered support by police.

Acting Ottawa fire Chief Paul Hutt said a regional distress line is taking calls, while Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson asked residents to pray for the families of the missing.

"Everybody's impacted by it. Everybody feels so, so badly for the families, for the employees," said Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, who represents the area.

"We're just all waiting to find out about the remaining five, and hopefully that some closure can be brought in that regard. But unfortunately, the news so far doesn't look good."

Another councillor, Tim Tierney, was in the immediate vicinity when the explosion went off.

"I thought there was an earthquake. It was very violent, the ground was shaking," Tierney said.

"And then I heard a bang, a very loud bang after, and suddenly started to see smoke in the sky. I knew at that point, something catastrophic had happened."

WATCH | Councillors describe 'catastrophic' fire:

Ottawa councillors describe ‘catastrophic’ Merivale Road fire

7 months ago
Duration 1:19
Councillors Tim Tierney and Keith Egli say officials are investigating the cause of the fire and are still searching for the five people who are missing after the blaze began Thursday afternoon.

Many sides to the investigation

Different agencies are leading different parts of the investigation into what police described as a heavily damaged site that will take time to examine.

The province's fire marshal has dispatched a team of investigators, engineers and emergency preparedness personnel to determine the "cause, origin, and circumstance" of the explosion, a spokesperson for the office said in a statement to CBC News.

That investigation will begin once Ottawa Fire Services has declared the site safe. The public should stay away from the scene for their own protection, the statement said.

Ottawa police say the scene of a fatal explosion and fire in south Ottawa is very damaged and will take some time to investigate. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

The Ottawa police's arson unit is leading the police investigation, D'Aoust said.

Officials did not take questions, so it's unclear if arson is suspected or if the unit — which investigates both suspicious and accidental fires — is being chosen to lead because of its expertise.

Fire officials said Thursday they'd been taking air quality samples and corralling any contaminated water running off from the scene of the fire. They'll keep providing logistical and safety support, police said.

In a statement, Ontario's Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development said it would conduct a parallel investigation.

The ministry said it had issued four orders to Eastway Tank during a 2017 visit, but all of them had been complied with. An employment standards claim was also investigated by the ministry and settled.

Ontario's Ministry of Environment was also called to the site. In a late Friday afternoon email, a spokesperson said clean-up efforts were still underway and that any environmental risks to the community are low.

The Office of the Chief Coroner confirmed Friday it was also helping investigate.

With files from Priscilla Ki Sun Hwang, Kate Porter, Alistair Steele and Shaamini Yogaretnam