3 injured following 'major' explosion in Wheatley, Ont.

People on scene say a large explosion rocked downtown Wheatley, Ont., just after 6 p.m. ET, resulting in three people being taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

2 buildings reduced to rubble following explosion in the southwestern Ontario town's centre

Wheatley buildings decimated in explosion following gas leak

2 years ago
Duration 2:14
Two buildings in the centre of Wheatley have been reduced to rubble after an explosion on Thursday. (Credit Kathryn Parent/@_phos3)

What you need to know:

  • Three people are being treated in hospital for non-life-threatening injuries
  • Two buildings, at the intersection of Erie Street N. and Talbot Road E., have been heavily damaged. 
  • Streets, businesses and dwellings have been evacuated in the area of Walker Street and Elm. Avenue, Little Street, Victoria Street and Julian Street, Chestnut Street and Buchanan Street.
  • There have been three previous gas leaks in the area since June. 

Three people were treated for injuries and two buildings were reduced to rubble following an explosion Thursday in the town centre of Wheatley, Ont.

The explosion happened shortly after 6 p.m. ET at the corner of Erie Street North and Talbot Road East, 50 kilometres southeast of Windsor. Nearby homes and businesses have been evacuated. 

A number of ambulances were called in, expecting numerous injuries, said Kevin Black, communications specialist for Erie Shores HealthCare. None of the injuries is life threatening.

The chief administrative officer for Chatham-Kent, the area municipality, said two buildings, 15 Erie St. N. and 15 Talbot Rd. E., were destroyed in a "major" explosion. Late Thursday night, officials began to evacuate streets, buildings and homes in the following areas: 

  • Walker Street and Elm Avenue.
  • Little Street.
  • Victoria Street and Julian Street.
  • Chestnut Street and Buchanan Street.

CBC News has not yet confirmed what caused the explosion. An official investigation is underway. But there had been several gas leaks in the area dating back to earlier this summer, said CAO Don Shropshire. 

Nearby business owner describes 'mayhem' following Wheatley explosion

2 years ago
Duration 3:02
Car Barn owner Barry Broadbent tells CBC Windsor reporter Jennifer La Grassa the explosion hit as he was evacuating his building.

"That area has had two detected gas leaks — today was the third," said Shropshire. 

The building had been under an emergency declaration order since July 19, he said. Bystanders told CBC the intersection had been blocked off and on all week. 

Gas leak detected Thursday

Maurice Raffoul owns MJ's Pizza at 19 Erie St. N., next door to one of the buildings that was destroyed.

He was sitting outside on a bench when he heard the explosion.

"We turned around and just ran," said Raffoul.

He said no one was inside his building at the time because it had been evacuated after an employee smelled gas.

"There was a heavy gas presence," said Raffoul. 

This is the last image available on Google Street View of the section of the block of Wheatley, Ont., that was destroyed by an explosion on Thursday. Sweet Country Home, a giftware shop, is listed as permanently closed. (Google Streetview)

The Municipality of Chatham-Kent said in a news release that monitoring devices detected gas at 4:30 p.m. Those devices triggered an alarm and a 911 call. 

That's when, the municipality said, officials evacuated the nearby buildings, which would have included MJ's Pizza.

Emergency responders were in the process of evacuating a larger zone around Erie and Talbot streets when the explosion happened. 

It was shortly after 6 p.m. when Mike Brannagan said he heard "a loud, concussive boom." 

"I saw some black smoke rising and then debris shooting through the air," said Brannagan, who was just a few blocks away.

"It's devastated, like a big pile of rubble," said Brannagan of the Pogue Irish Pub, which hadn't operated in years, according to Shropshire. 

Around the corner, Kathryn Parent was inside Renny's The Village Smokehouse. 

The front window of this business was blown out during the explosion. (Kathryn Parent (@_phos3)/Twitter)

"The windows rattled and pictures fell off the wall," she said, adding the restaurant's glass window blew out during the explosion. 

Parent said that when she arrived at the restaurant before the explosion there were firefighters on the scene. 

"The firefighters seemed very relaxed, there was nothing happening at the moment. All of the sudden... we were sitting there and kaboom."

She said emergency officials closed down a large area around the explosion, and they told her the gas was still leaking. 

People at the scene said a loud explosion was heard in Wheatley. (Submitted by: Mike Brannagan)

Area previously under emergency declaration

The area was already being monitored by emergency officials because of an ongoing investigation following gas leaks that were reported earlier this summer. 

"There has been no new detection of gas since the last report July 19," said Chatham-Kent municipality in a release Aug. 3.

"Given the reoccurrence of the gas detection, the ongoing monitoring offers an increased level of safety for those working in the building and ensures emergency services can be notified and a further public evacuation can be implemented, if needed."

Shropshire said they have not been able to determine the source of that gas leak, but the most likely cause was an abandoned gas well.

"The explosion is in the vicinity of the location where hydrogen sulphide gas was first discovered in June of this year," said Shropshire.

The Wheatley Arena has been set up as a reception area for people who have been forced to leave their homes. 

with files from Stacey Janzer, Jacob Barker, Jennifer LaGrassa