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Witnesses describe fireball, intense heat at massive St. Boniface fire

Homes, businesses in half-mile around fire evacuated

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Nearby residents are being evacuated from their homes and firefighters have been ordered to retreat and stay a minimum of 1,000 feet away from a huge fire at Speedway International Ltd. at 40 Nicolas Ave. in St. Boniface.

Plumes of smoke from the blaze can be seen across the city, and several explosions have occurred -- one accompanied by a huge fireball.

Speedway International, northwest of the intersection of Archibald Street and Marion Street, a source of biofuels.A Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service spokesman also said nearby railcars contain fuel that could catch fire. Railway officials have been notified.

Residents are being evacuated west of Archibald and north of Marion. Police have blocked off local access to many area streets, including parts of Marion Street blocks away from industrial fire.  Police officers wearing protective masks have blocked off Archibald at Provencher.

Explosions continue to erupt inside the blaze.

Fuel-filled rail cars on site a concern: fire officials

Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Chief Reid Douglas said the fire started around 5:30 p.m. The cause has not been determined, he said.

The business contained 175,000 litre of biodiesel, and crews pulled back from the fire before a truck tanker containing 75,000 litres of methanol exploded around 6:30 pm., Douglas said.

Fire crews are in "defensive mode" and are maintaining a safety perimeter around the blaze.

The department's biggest concern right now is the risk of  more explosions. Two rail cars adjacent to the building each contain 100,000 litres of fuel — one with biodiesel and one with methanol alcohol, he said.

All residents within 800 metres — about half a mile — have been told to leave their homes due to the risk of explosion should the wind shift and one of the tankers catch fire, Douglas said.

He expects emergency crews will work through the night and continue to assess the situation.

The building has been completely destroyed, he said.

Gary, who did not want to reveal his last name, said early Monday evening police were knocking on doors at homes in the area  telling people to get out before the fire spreads.

"They're saying the whole thing is going to blow," he said.

Police have told curious bystanders to leave the area immediately. Police said pedestrians and motorists should also avoid the area.

'People were running away'

Witnesses described seeing an explosion, a fireball and a wave of intense heat.

Cassandra Brazil, 23, was sitting in a friend's car just 50 metres from the blaze when the explosion happened.

"It went from black smoke to a fireball. It shot up so high," she said. "Then a huge heat wave went right over the car. We just felt instantly hot. People were running away. Honestly, we actually thought of abandoning the car and running, too."

Brazil said the bright orange flames shooting up were overwhelming — and terrifying.

"We knew we were too close," she said. "More fire trucks started coming and the cops told us we had to leave."

Brazil was heading downtown toward home when she and a friend decided to check out the clouds of smoke billowing from St. Boniface.

"We went exploring... I never expected anything like this. We got there and we didn't see any flames. Then it just exploded... It happened so fast."

'Never seen anything like this'

"It's huge. I've never seen anything like this before," said Stephan Cooper, who was out with his family for a walk.

Cooper said his brother lives closer to the blaze and told him to avoid the area altogether. Cooper said police have told many people to leave he immediate area, noting police would not let him walk further than Marion at Dufresne Avenue.

A huge plume of smoke could be seen across the city and attracted many curious onlookers.

Police closed down a park just south of Marion Street to the threat of explosions. Firefighters were also trying to move onlookers off a hill downwind from the blaze, where many had gathered to watch and take photographs of the scene.

Shortly after 7 p.m. several loud booms could be heard as massive orange flames burst from inside the black smoke.

"That was the loudest one yet," said Steve Weedon, who rode his bike from Fort Rouge to check out the thick plume of smoke.

Glenn Schmidt stood a few blocks from the inferno and took video as loud pops sent explosions ripping through the blaze. He said curiosity made him want to get close enough to see what was going on.

Schmidt said firefighters were letting the fire burn since adding water would do little good.

"You can't put it out with water. It's diesel fuel," he said.

 

 

 

 


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History

Updated on Monday, October 1, 2012 at 6:28 PM CDT: Updates

6:37 PM: Adds photo

6:42 PM: Updates

6:48 PM: Adds details

7:09 PM: Adds streets blocked off

7:11 PM: Adds quotes from witness

7:24 PM: Adds park closed

7:38 PM: Updates with police telling residents to leave

7:54 PM: Add transit bus info

8:27 PM: Updates with police wearing protective masks

8:46 PM: Adds slideshow.

9:11 PM: Adds comments from fire chief

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