Several people living near the site of a house explosion in Kitchener that left one person dead and one person critically injured will be out of their homes for several days as authorities investigate the cause of the blast.
First responders arrived on the scene of the explosion, on Sprucedale Cres., shortly after receiving calls at around 8:10 a.m.
Two people were located in the backyard of the house: a female, who was declared dead on scene, and a male, who police say was helped to the rear of the home by neighbours.
The man was airlifted in critical condition to Hamilton General Hospital, where he is receiving treatment.
His current condition is not known, but Waterloo deputy police chief Kevin Chalk says the victim was in “dire medical need” when he was found.
The body of the female victim remains on the property.
“We haven’t been able to get the scene. For obvious reasons, it’s still unsafe to do so,” Chalk said during a morning news conference.
The house where the explosion occurred was completely leveled, and the fire spread to two neighbouring homes, causing significant damage.
“Kitchener Fire department is still managing hot spots and this remains an emergency scene,” Fire Chief Jon Rehill explained at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon.
Water, hydro and gas were shut off along the street. Several homes were evacuated as a “precaution.”
People living in sixteen homes will not be able to return for at least three days, and the residents of the two houses directly next door could be displaced for even longer.
In an earlier press conference, Rehill called the explosion a “significant event.”
“The focus right now is to make sure the scene is safe and secure,” he said.
Rehill said there is “no preliminary word on the cause of the fire.”
Police launch ‘death investigation’
Authorities have launched a death investigation in the case.
“Although we have received some information, it hasn’t transitioned as yet to a criminal investigation,” Chalk said.
“We don’t know if in fact that will occur.”
Chalk noted the focus of the investigation could change if the explosion is deemed an act of arson or if the death is determined to be a homicide.
Members from the Ontario Coroner’s Office and the Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal are on scene, but are not expected to have access to the property for at least another day.
Earlier in the day, Chalk said the explosion was “suspicious only in so much right now that when you have a house explosion like this, obviously it causes concern. There could be a number of reasons for it. Some of them could be criminal, some would not be.”
An autopsy is expected to be completed in the next two days.
Chalk also said police “suspect” they know the identities of the victims, but will not reveal names until the appropriate confirmation is received.
“To our knowledge at this point, everyone that we’re aware of is accounted for,” Chalk said.
Police also said on Wednesday morning that a dog may have died inside the house.
Community is ‘one that cares’
Although fire officials say there is no threat to the neighbourhood, the explosion has taken a toll on some area residents.
“It’s tragic, especially for the next door neighbours,” Sam Bailie, who lives in the area, commented.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before in my entire life,” another resident said.
“I saw an intense flame, black smoke, maybe 300 feet high, and you could see the flames over the houses. It was quite the explosion and the heat was intense,” he noted.
The mayor of Kitchener, Berry Vrbanovic, visited the neighbourhood on Wednesday afternoon.
“An event of this magnitude is significant and traumatic for those directly impacted, as well as the community and neighbourhood as a whole. I’ve had a chance to speak with a few of the residents here today and it’s clear this community is one that cares about their neighbours,” he said.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to all affected.”
The Red Cross and Victims Services have been brought in to help people cope with the blast and the aftermath.
The agencies are helping those who have been displaced find support and resources.
Anyone in the area who needs help is urged to .
Asked about the damage estimate, Rehill said there was no concrete figure, but it was “into the millions, no question about it.”