Three people were rushed to hospital Thursday after an apparent explosion and fire on Merivale Road in Ottawa's south end, according to police and paramedics.
Firefighters received multiple 911 calls Thursday at around 1:30 p.m. about a large fire at 1995 Merivale Rd. between Cleopatra Drive and Slack Road, in the city's Nepean area, according to Ottawa Fire Services.
A spokesperson told CBC News that 911 callers reported seeing flames 15 to 18 metres in the air. He said the building that was on fire and the surrounding area were quickly evacuated.
Paramedics originally said they took two people to hospital, but corrected that to three — two in critical condition, one in stable condition — in a late Thursday afternoon update.
'Reunification centre' at nearby church
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and at least one witness identified the site of the fire as Eastway Tank Pump & Meter Ltd., a manufacturer of custom tank trucks whose address matches the one shared by fire officials.
Eastway has not yet returned calls from CBC.
The City of Ottawa has set up a "family reunification centre" at the Woodvale Pentecostal Church at 205 Greenbank Rd. so that everyone working at the site of the fire is accounted for.
Families and employees should all head there tonight, Ottawa Fire Services said.
Ottawa police are still in the process of determining if anyone is missing, and the reunification centre will help with that investigation, a spokesperson told CBC.
Police, fire and paramedics have not yet given any indication that there were any fatalities. As of 7 p.m., emergency crews were still searching the scene and keeping an eye out for any flare-ups.
No risk for residents, officials say
The building that caught fire was fully engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived on scene, and the roof began to cave in soon afterwards, Ottawa Fire Services said in a news release Thursday evening.
The scene was littered with a number of hazards, including live hydro wires and propane tanks, the fire department said.
It wasn't until 5:48 p.m. that firefighters had declared the blaze under control. One firefighter also suffered minor injuries, the news release said.
Speaking from the scene Thursday afternoon, acting fire chief Paul Hutt said crews were sucking up any contaminated water running off from the fire and taking air quality samples.
"I want to ensure residents that there is no concern. We have our hazmat team on location. We're navigating and mitigating any risk," Hutt said.
"There is no concern at all for the residents. There is no need to evacuate."
The Ministry of Environment is also at the site, helping with operations. Merivale had been closed between West Hunt Club and Macfarlane roads, but it is now back open.
'It was scary'
Mario Mainville, who works nearby at Freedom Harley-Davidson, described hearing about a dozen "booms" coming from the building.
"Now we see big white smoke. We saw the building going down," he said about an hour after the explosion was reported.
When Renée Burwell walked out of a nearby Canadian Tire where she'd been shopping, she noticed a giant "wall of smoke" in the distance.
As she drove past, she pulled over and quickly shot some footage on her phone.
"I was scared, I was anxious, I was worried," she said. "I was really worried if there was people inside and if anyone was hurt. I really just wanted them to [extinguish] the fire. It was scary."
WATCH: Witness describes scene near Merivale Road fire:
First responders appeared to quickly bring the situation under control, said Jesse Headland, a gas station attendant who works across the street from the fire site.
Like other witnesses, Headland said he heard a loud bang, followed by a cloud of smoke and a "significant amount of flames."
"I've been at that station for nine years and that's probably the worst thing that's ever actually happened around in that area," he said.
The fire is being investigated by Ottawa police and fire, Ontario's Ministry of Labour and the Office of the Fire Marshal.
No official cause has been announced.