Natural gas suspected in Calgary house explosion

The blast was felt by firefighters almost a kilometre away.  (Colleen Underwood/CBC - image credit)
The blast was felt by firefighters almost a kilometre away. (Colleen Underwood/CBC - image credit)

Calgary fire officials suspect the explosion that levelled a house in the city's northeast on Monday, damaging several nearby homes, raining debris on the neighbourhood and sending 10 people to the hospital, was caused by natural gas. 

Speaking on the Calgary Eyeopener Tuesday, Fire Chief Steven Dongworth said investigators currently believe the blast was caused by an issue involving natural gas, although he noted that the full investigation will not be completed for weeks. 

"We need to examine the equipment from the basement and come up with a scenario with what actually led to [the explosion]," he said. 

The equipment to be examined includes the furnace, the hot water tank and any other gas appliances, Dongworth said. He added that fire officials will speak with the victims about what they smelled or saw prior to the blast. 

When asked if there was evidence of a meth lab in the basement, the fire chief said there was none. 

LISTEN | Fire chief discusses Marlborough house explosion 

Colleen Underwood/CBC
Colleen Underwood/CBC

The explosion rocked the Marlborough neighborhood around 8:50 a.m. Monday, and the force of the blast was felt by firefighters at the Forest Heights station, roughly a half-mile away. 

Emergency crews arrived at the scene on Maryvale Way N.E. in minutes, aiding 10 people who were seriously hurt and battling large flames that engulfed the wreckage of the home. One of the victims was found hanging from a blown-out window. 

Ambulances brought the victims, all of whom were adults, to nearby hospitals for treatment. Six suffered injuries that were considered life-threatening. Most of the victims were believed to have been inside the home that exploded. 

After extinguishing hotspots in the basement, firefighters were able to search for any further casualties. 

"I'm glad to report that we didn't find any," Dongworth said. 

As of Tuesday morning, there's been no update from Alberta Health Services as to the conditions of the victims.

Alut Majak said her ex-husband Muorater But, 65, is one of the victims. She said that he underwent surgery Monday and remains at the hospital. 

"I'm going down there to see him today," she said, noting that he is the father of her five children. 

Her former spouse lived in the home that exploded, Majak said, although she was unsure how long he'd been staying there. Majak said that after the explosion, several people reached out to her offering support. 

"Pray for him," she said. "We all need prayer." 

Rose Kadri, a neighbour who has lived in the area for more than 20 years, said that several people appeared to live in the home, including the owner.

Daniel Keror, a neighbour and longtime friend of the homeowner, said that the owner was hurt in the blast but his injuries didn't require him to remain hospitalized.

He said the homeowner was originally from South Sudan and often let friends and others from the country stay at his home. According to Keror, the homeowner is working to get a cellphone to call family members.

Submitted by Nathan Peters
Submitted by Nathan Peters

"He doesn't have nothing right now," Keror said. 

The explosion severely damaged two homes on either side, lighting them on fire. The damaged homes will need to be assessed before their occupants can return. Authorities are currently assisting those residents with housing. 

Remnants of the destroyed home were flung throughout the neighbourhood, and eight other homes in the area sustained damage from debris. This damage, however, was not enough to force people from their homes. 

The force of the explosion left cracks in Kadri's walls. She said she's concerned about her chimney and roof.

"I didn't sleep all night," she said. "I'm going to have a nightmare for the whole week, who knows how long."

The fireball from the blast was captured by surveillance cameras at nearby Marlborough Mall.

The footage, which was shared with CBC News, showed the explosion reaching well above the tree tops, leaving a plume of black smoke in the snow-filled air. 

VIDEO | Surveillance footage captures home explosion  

In the aftermath of the blast, Enmax shut off power to the area, affecting hundreds of households. Power has since been restored.

Speaking on the Eyeopener, the fire chief noted that explosions involving natural gas are rare and not something Calgarians need to worry about.

"We have thousands of homes in the city of Calgary safely using natural gas," Dongworth said.

"This is a very rare occurrence, and obviously something has gone wrong here. There's no question."

He said that if residents smell natural gas in their homes, they should call the fire department immediately to get it checked out.

Coun. Andre Chabot, who represents Ward 10 and is currently in Vancouver, said his heart goes out to the victims and their relatives.

"Whatever the [investigation's] findings are, we have to ensure that we take every measure possible to ensure this doesn't happen again," he said.