Windsor

New video shows incredible force of Wheatley, Ont., explosion

A newly surfaced video of the Wheatley, Ont., explosion shows the incredible force of the blast that hit the small town's core last summer. 

Residents, businesses still evacuated from the area nearly five months later

New video of Wheatley explosion

4 months ago
Duration 0:44
A new video from security camera footage shows the power of the blast in downtown Wheatley last summer. Submitted by John Urban.

A newly surfaced video of the Wheatley, Ont., explosion shows the incredible force of the blast that hit the small town's core last summer. 

It is also bringing back tough memories for residents of the community, located about 70 kilometres southeast of Windsor in the Municipality of Chatham-Kent.

"That was our village, that's where we all went to gather," said Rebecca Lamb of the downtown intersection seen in the 44-second video. Lamb and her husband remain out of their home, which is nearby and was badly damaged.

"It brought back a lot of very, very sad times."

The video, obtained by CBC Windsor this week, was captured by a security camera at a business across the street and gives the clearest view yet of the Aug. 26, 2021, explosion.

It shows the moment, at 6:13 p.m. ET, the powerful blast sent a cloud of smoke and debris flying into the air. Bystanders are seen fleeing while firefighters, who were responding to elevated gas level alarms in the area, immediately begin responding.

WATCH | Remembering the explosion:

'That was our village'

4 months ago
Duration 0:53
Displaced resident Rebecca Lamb says watching the video brings back a very, very sad time for her and others in Wheatley

It sent some to hospital with injuries, destroyed at least two buildings and damaged several more. The cause is still under investigation but it's suspected to be the result of gas leaking from an underground well. 

Lamb witnessed the explosion from her car. 

"I felt it," she said. "When I went to stop, all of a sudden my car jumped … I thought 'what was wrong with my brakes?'"

"I just looked up and said 'Oh my God.'"

WATCH | Conditions for 'something really bad':

'The Goldilocks combination'

4 months ago
Duration 0:43
Rich Meier is a U.S. based expert in fire and explosion investigations. He says the mixture of gas and air at the time of the explosion was likely just right for something really bad to happen.

She says the video doesn't show how high the debris was thrown into the air.

"It went way up in the air, it went straight up," she said. "Things were flying in the air, a lot of insulation, a lot of everything. I saw two-by-fours, just — woo — flying up."

Mario Amaral was driving a black truck that can be seen in the video on his way to pick up a bag of milk at the Circle K.

He says he hit the deck in his truck the moment he heard the blast. He felt debris hit his truck before lifting his head back up and driving off.

"That's when I saw that cloud of dust coming," he said. "I didn't care if it was a red light or not, I was getting the heck out of there." 

"I can't believe nobody got killed." 

Mario Amaral was driving the black truck seen in the video passing the explosion as it happened. (Submitted by Mario Amaral)

Based on what's in the video, the mixture of gas and air at the time of the explosion was likely just right for "something really bad to happen," said Richard Meier, a fire and explosion expert based in Florida. Meier is not involved in the investigation. 

"It's kind of the Goldilocks combination," he said of the likely gas/air mixture, adding it takes an extremely small spark to ignite an explosion.

"A cat walking under a couch ... and little static electricity can set it off," he said.

"It takes very little energy. So if there's a candle, a pilot light, somebody clicking on a light switch, all of those are competent ignition sources to ignite a flammable air-gas mixture like that." 

Two abandoned wells have been found in the area and a team from the province continues to investigate whether they are the source of the leak suspected to have caused the blast, or if it comes from elsewhere. 

Municipality officials said earlier this week the goal of work being done in the area is to permanently stop the gas leak, to reduce the evacuation zone and find a way to allow residents and businesses to get back to their buildings. 

CBC News requested to speak with Chatham Kent Fire Services but officials declined, saying they could not speak to the video as it is part of an active investigation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacob Barker

Videojournalist

Jacob Barker is a videojournalist for CBC Windsor.

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