Downsview explosion and contemplating the silent freeway

Keele and Highway 401 this afternoon.

Update#1: please see the comments for more links to images and videos of last night’s explosion.

Update #2: At 6PM, the fire was still going. A tragedy earlier this afternoon when a firefighter died battling this inferno.

Update #3: At about 8PM, the 401 has reopened, but Keele and Wilson are still closed, including the Keele off-ramps. Hopefully, things will start getting back to normal. Also, the police are allowing residents to return to their homes.
6PM, fire still blazing 14 hours later. Note the broken windows in the school in the foreground.

Update #4:Businesses along Wilson are cleaning up the broken glass and the street has reopened. Some local streets immediately to the east of the Sunrise site have remained closed. The National Post has a good set of photos from today, including broken headstones at Mount Sinai Cemetary and broken storefronts.

The news story on most peoples’ minds here in Toronto today is the massive Sunrise Propane explosion that rocked the Downsview area and felt right across Toronto and some of the 905 suburbs.
I live near the corner of Sunrise Propane depot on Murray Road was the property affected. (Live Search birds-eye image of site)

Other sites have better coverage and pictures of the night’s events, including BlogTO (which has been updating its post regularly), Torontoist and Urban Toronto, so the angle of this post is the local neighborhood the day after.

I am just outside the evacuation area, which was roughly bounded by Keele, Highway 401, Sheppard, and Dufferin, but live within the larger traffic no-go zone of Jane, Lawrence, Finch, and Bathurst. The 401 was shut down, and as I write, reports are in that Yorkdale Mall was being evacuated. The subway, closed north of Lawrence West for much of the day, has reopened. Also coincidentally, the new TTC website was fully launched, and listed the subway closures and some of the bus diversions (but the 41 Keele, also diverted, was not listed). Highway 401 is completely closed from the 400 to the 404 (though some traffic east of Bathurst has been allowed on eastbound). It’s a surreal sight, and the silence, which I am not used to, is eerie. This demonstrates how seriously emergency crews are treating this, still concerned about further explosions at the site. With the 401 closed (along with Wilson and Sheppard), traffic is bad along all the major alternative east-west routes.

 

We met neighbours, drawn out by curiosity, exchanging stories. Some of the other units in my building facing north or east had screens come off their doors, or even frames come out from the wall. With the 401 closed and local streets banned to traffic, and with all local businesses closed, there was little else to do after getting tired of watching the same repetitive items on the television. As with the TTC strike, some people still waited for buses in vain – and shocked to learn that they had to walk to Lawrence to get a bus out. The emergency crews were great. After conflicting media reports as to whether our building was in or outside the evacuation zone, we went out to see what was going on, and spoke to a police officer on barricade duty. We were assured that if an officer did not knock on our door, were were OK, at least for now.

 

Nearby, workers were busy boarding up shattered windows, though there are perhaps hundreds of these across the area. At Wilson and Dubray, a propane cylinder flew from the site, about 500 metres away, bouncing off the ground and then hitting a bus shelter, and everything is closed off. Police stopped curious pedestrians and cyclists from going any closer east than Dubray.

A propane tank flew 500 metres to here, Dubray and Wilson, and hit the ground and this older bus shelter.

Wilson and Dubray, as close as I could go.

Storefronts damaged on Wilson near Keele. Note the damaged interiors.

With traffic banned from a large area and the only TTC services being the shelter buses to York University, it has left many people, inside the containment area, but outside the evacuation area, stranded. As for the evacuatees, some of them (whom I saw) were still in pajamas, some with bags, some carrying cat carriers and boarding buses north. Hopefully, they can return by this evening once the fire is extinguished. Thankfully, residents escaped serious injuries, though storefronts on Wilson were damaged by shattered glass, likely the greatest cause of injury.


Thankfully, there are few reports of serious injuries, and nearby houses look intact, though it might take some time to access the total amount of the damage. Though there are reports that one person is still unaccounted for, and a firefighter on the scene was rushed to hospital and later died. This is a tragedy, particularly for we saw first-hand some of the professionalism of these responders.

The Toronto Star is reporting that Sunrise only moved in to the site five years ago, and local residents, evacuated first to the former CFB Downsview, then York University, were angry. some claim that they had no notice of the propane depot’s move, and claimed they had previous concerns about safety. Sunrise has a 24 hour location there, serving industrial customers as well as filling consumer propane tanks. It raises questions not only to local input in planning decisions, as well as the need for safety and zoning regulations for such a potentially hazardous product.

Police blocking entry to the 401

An unusually quiet Keele Street.

Keele and Wilson, 6PM.

 

23 comments

  1. “Amazing what one cigarette can do…”

    I’m not sure whether to take this as a bit of anti-smoking trolling or whatever, but the cause isn’t in yet in this one.

    However, the explosion at Caledon Propane in Bowmanville, 2004, was widely rumoured in town to be due to careless smoking around the tanks.

  2. What disgusted me was that city councillor Shelley Carroll, “acting Deputy Mayor” on tv blamed this on the homeowners who bought homes that encroached on an industrial area.

    While the industrial area was there first with WWII industries and later with places like the Tesky Construction cement loading location, those homes have been their for probably 5 decades while Sunrise Propane maybe one decade.

    Why does the city permit dangerous stuff like this to be ADDED to a location right across the street from a residential area?

    And for Councillor Carroll to blame the residents is nothing short of absolutely disgusting.

    It’s no wonder so many people have lost any respect for politicians.

  3. just wondering what school was that? was it downsview public school?

  4. That’s actually Holy Name of Mary Catholic High School. Downsview Secondary is a little bit further north on Dubray.

  5. Al, do you have the actual quote from Carroll? I didn’t see or read whatever you’re referring to but she’s normally an empathetic person from what I’ve seen of her.

  6. i think :O was referring to downsview public school – on keele street – and no, its not dps, which is only 1 storey – much smaller than holy name of mary

  7. I dont recall any quote of Carroll blaming residents.

  8. Where has Councillor Maria Augimeri been during this entire event? I have heared several councillors speak on television and make statements in newspapers, but the councillor for the ward where the propane explosion took place has yet to make any statement. I find it extremely troubling that she has not reached out to the constituents who have elected her.

  9. Alexandra: I was thinking the exact same thing. She could be on holiday, which would be a reasonable explanation, but there’s nothing from her office.

    For all that Rob Ford can be, at least I would be sure that he would be front and centre if this happened in his ward and demanding explanations as to what’s going on and how this depot was opened right across the street from a well-established residental neighbourhood. At least the tank farms near Keele and Finch were there first, even before York U moved in.

  10. I heard the councillor say this too.

    It seems it was the very first television interview Carroll gave and it was by phone with no video feed on CBC News World.

    I was flipping channels and was shocked when I heard her talk about either encroaching or encroachment in reference to the homeowners.

    Yes, she was definitely blaming the innocent victims.

    It was just the once that I heard her say this, but then I can only watch one channel at a time.

  11. I don’t think the City is entirely to blame on this but it does seem that things are going into damage control at City Hall. Apparently, the Mayor has “now” committed to seeing what the city can do to prevent such facilites being established within a certain radius of residential areas. Interesting how residents in the coverage point out that there was “no consultation” at all that this facility was being established in their area. Acting Deputy Mayor Carroll was quoted on Monday giving the city hall spin that because of zoning, there was nothing that the city could do about allowing this facility into the area. That may or may not actually be so. But even if it was the case, if the city really had cared about the concerns of residents when this proposal was being put through, it could have at the very least called public attention to those concerns, as it has done in other instances. But unfortunately, these residents don’t happen to live in the kind of affluent or trendy areas that this Council takes up the gauntlet for or bothers to consult with. Seems to me that if at if the city had spent 1/100th of the energy that it has apparently focused against such things as, oh… an island airport or a Walmarts near Leslieville, then we might of at the very least been more aware of the concerns that local residents have about this facility going up in their neck of the woods.

  12. The City really isn’t to blame here. This is a classic example of people wanting to affix blame to the perceived decision-makers closest to them, and that’s city hall.

    And this isn’t about which neighbourhoods the City wants to protect either, as Sam suggests. The common thread here is that the downtown councillors are forced to work by their constituents while councillors like Maria Augimeri get re-elected time and again even though they haven’t lifted a finger since amalgamation.

  13. Kevin, we all offer our opinion on this site. I don’t pretend to know the Gospel truth.. but it would be nice if others pretended as much as well. Maybe it is your experience that the downtown councilors work with their constituents. I can assure you that it is not the opinion of all downtown constituents. And there is no point in going into full details on this in just a few lines on a website. I never said the City is to blame, though it is my opinion that the share some of the blame, bylaws notwithstanding. But at this point in the situation, I don’t think we (including you) can speak with authority about who is to blame. I also think that if the city (and by that I include local councillors) was concerned about the dangers this situation could have posed, they should at the very least been a little more forthcoming in their advocacy as they have been in other situations. It has been commented on by many people (including some members of CIty Council on both the left and the right) that amalgamation has created a situation where Councillors have much more discretion over which parts of their community to ignore and which to listen to for the simply reason that they have much larger wards and are those less reliant on the support of all parts of their ward. I dont’ think the issue is whether people are right or wrong to have the concerns they have (afterall only hindsight is 20/20), but more whether they have been treated in a fair, thoughtful and respectful matter regarding those concerns. That may not have been the case in Ms. Augimeri’s ward (though again, I don’t think many of us can say that with any assurance.) But I would say that it is something that many people in the downtown wards would say doesn’t characterize their experience with local government either, even though they may be people who’s issues you don’t support. This may not be your experience in your dealings with local officials … but that doesn’t make people who’ve had different experiences “wrong” and you “right”.

  14. And while I do “think” the city does share some blame on this, I actually think if any authorities are blameworthy, it is likely the province that is due for the largest share of the blame, since it has probably the province who should have been more diligent on these matters all along… for the benefit and protection of all Ontario residents. Again, I’m not pretending to speak with authority with who is to blame for what. What I would say at this point is that in the game of blame dodging that now seems to be going on with this issue, the city sounds less than credible in trying to use “bylaws” as a justification for apparently failing to having taken concerns about this facility more seriously.

  15. This link is to an INFORMATION EXCHANGE community for those concerned about potential FUTURE dangers related to this incident (whether accidental or deliberate – as none of us yet know). There is information here that, though in the media, most people are not aware of, and we encourage you to share whatever you know, so that we can all be as informed as possible.

    Please consider participating.

    http://www.new.facebook.com/group.php?gid=23478054063&ref=mf

  16. The picture is Madonna High School at the corner of Dubray and Wilson. I know that particular building well. I went there in the 70’s and lobbed a few tennis balls into the Mt. Sinai Cemetary during gym class from our adjacent school tennis court. Stop blaming and offer to do something – it’s going to be a big clean up. People have lost so much that can never be replaced. Faith, Hope & Charity was the Madonna High School motto. It has never been more appropriate.

  17. Councillor Maria Augimeri, tells residents to shut up…wow we do live in a country were the government is not afraid of the people. Just like China…god bless Augimeri and Mayor Miller. Propane explosions happen now and then but politicians suck on all the time.

  18. I think Canada needs an emergency response plan and better security around these facilities.

  19. Thank you Sean Marshall for sharing your time, thoughts and insights on this tragedy. I learnt a lot from your article, as I do not always take time to tune in on the news channels.

    Sincerely

    Jt

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