The Merivale explosion – what we know and how it all happened

It’s been two days since a massive explosion tore through a fuel tanker manufacturer in Ottawa’s south end, and the complex and multi-faceted investigation has only just begun.

Developments have been fast and furious since the first 911 calls arrived around 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

Although it will likely be some time before there is a firm explanation of the cause of the explosion, some details have been confirmed, including the fact that one person is dead and five others are missing and presumed dead.

Here’s what we know so far and when we found out.

Thusday

AT around 1:30 p.m., people begin calling 911 about a massive explosion at an industrial enterprise on Merivale Road, just south of West Hunt Club Road.

Some callers report flames 15 to 18 meters high at the site, while witnesses tell CBC they heard loud bangs and booming noises.

Firefighters on site discover that the building is engulfed in flames and the roof and walls are collapsing. They begin to fight a defensive battle against the fire.

Just after 2 p.m. Ottawa Police tweet that people were injured in an explosion and fire on block 1900 of Merivale, and a section of Merivale was blocked.

CBC reporters arrive at the scene – or as close as possible – shortly after to find officers directing traffic, emergency vehicles racing past and smoke billowing in the distance.

Acting Fire Chief Paul Hutt gives his first scene update around 3:30 p.m., telling reporters two people were taken to hospital with undisclosed injuries. Around the same time, The Ottawa Hospital said in a statement that it actually had three dependents.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, meanwhile, is disclosing the location of the fire as Eastway Tank Pump & Meter Ltd., a manufacturer of custom tank trucks.

About an hour later, Hutt gives a second update, saying the fire is still active and they need to bring in heavy equipment to suppress it. He says crews are vacuuming any contaminated water and taking air quality samples, and there is no danger to nearby residents.

Paramedics, meanwhile, confirm that three people are indeed hospitalized – two in critical condition, one in stable condition.

No danger to residents as Merivale Road fire continues to burn, fire chief says

Acting Ottawa Fire Chief Paul Hutt said officials are taking steps to keep the area clean and safe for residents as they continue to battle the blaze on Merivale Road, which remains closed to traffic. 0:59

Shortly after 5:30 p.m. The Ottawa Fire Department announces that a “Family Reunification Centre” has been set up at the Woodvale Pentecostal Church to reunite employees with their families.

Firefighters officially have the blaze under control at 5:48 p.m.

Ottawa Police, Fire and Paramedics Issue Joint News Release just before 7 p.m. urge all workers and their family members to come to the reunification center to make sure everyone is accounted for. They say emergency crews are still searching the scene of the fire and monitoring for any outbreaks.

Merivale Road reopens around 7:30 p.m.

People walk near Woodvale Pentecostal Church in Ottawa on January 13, 2022. The church served as a ‘family reunification centre’ following a fatal explosion and fire on Merivale Road. (Guy Quenneville/Radio-Canada)

Friday

County of Knoxdale-Merivale Keith Egli, who represents the area, provides an early morning update on CBC radio Ottawa morning. He said he visited the reunification center on Thursday evening but did not know if all the workers were present.

At a press conference at 9 a.m., nearly 20 hours after the explosion, police officially confirm that five people who were in the building at the time of the explosion are missing and are believed to be dead.

Police also said one of the three men taken to hospital on Thursday had died. Another is in stable condition, while the third has been released from hospital.

Ottawa police say the arson unit will be the force’s lead investigator, though they won’t say whether they believe the explosion and fire were caused by a deliberate act.

One dead and five missing in Merivale Road blaze, police say

Ottawa Police Insp. Frank D’Aoust said one man has died and five others are missing and presumed dead after Thursday afternoon’s explosion and fire at a business on Merivale Road. 0:53

Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario confirms it will assist with inquest shortly before 10 a.m.

Just before noon, Eastway Tank President Neil Greene releases a statement saying he is “completely [devastated]and his company will cooperate with any investigations. He says they want to “get to the bottom of what happened.”

Another city councilor, Tim Tierney, tells CBC News around 1 p.m. on how close he was when the explosion happened. He says he first thought it was an earthquake.

Ottawa councilors describe ‘catastrophic’ Merivale Road fire

Councilors Tim Tierney and Keith Egli said authorities were investigating the cause of the fire and were still looking for the five people who were missing after the blaze started Thursday afternoon. 1:18

According to the Ontario Ministry of Labor around 4:30 p.m. they will conduct a parallel investigation.

A spokesperson said it issued four orders against Eastway Tank in 2017, related to issues including ventilation, welding and hazardous chemicals. They were fully respected.

The Ministry of the Environment, meanwhile, sends an email just before 5:30 p.m. say cleanup efforts are still ongoing and the environmental risks to the community are low.

Drone footage captured by CBC around this time also shows work continuing at the site of the fire.

At Friday night, the identity of one of the victims, Rick Bastien, 57, was confirmed to CBC News by his son.

Josh Bastien said his father, a longtime Eastway employee listed in the company’s directory as a welder/fabricator/mechanic, was a “upright guy” who was “loved by everyone who met him”.

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

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