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Haida Gwaii blaster not guilty in fireball explosion injury case

Explosions and a fireball rocked the community of Queen Charlotte on Aug 7, 2018 when a roof went up in flames.
Haida Gwaii
The explosion in the Haida Gwaii community of Queen Charlotte took place on Aug. 7, 2018.

A B.C. blaster has been acquitted on allegations of inappropriate explosives storage after a blast and fireball rocked the Haida Gwaii community of Queen Charlotte on Aug 7, 2018, injuring several first responders.

“I am not satisfied the initial explosion was, in fact, due to explosives alone or explosives at all,” B.C. Supreme Court Justice Robert Punnett said in a May 11 decision released June 13.

“In my opinion, it is more probable than not the first explosion arose from various fuel sources such as the oxygen tank and the three propane tanks on site,” he said.

A contractor was replacing a portion of the roof on Thomas Daniel Kendall‘s waterfront home using a heavy‑duty propane torch, to apply a patch around a vent.

That torch ignited the roof and the resulting fire engulfed the accused's family home, spreading to a travel trailer parked nearby.

“Shortly afterwards, a much larger and louder explosion of considerable force occurred,” Punnett said. “Flames and thick smoke were blown much higher into the sky. Structures other than the accused's family home and nearby vehicles were damaged. Some first responders are alleged to have suffered injuries.”

Debris rained down in the local area, including spent and intact blasting materials, the judge noted.

The Queen Charlotte Volunteer Fire Department, RCMP and later, the Skidegate Fire Department, attended the fire.

After the explosions, RCMP officers searched the area.

The Crown alleged Kendall‘s travel trailer contained detonators and high explosives ignited by the fire that led to the explosions.

The Crown alleged Kendall was required by law to store such materials in licensed magazines, away from other structures, and he failed to use reasonable care in breach of the Criminal Code.

Officers testified finding blasting equipment, that the trailer was in the area of the explosion.

A defence witness said the explosions may have been caused by explosives but that did not account for the fireballs.

“He stated that when high explosives detonate, a plume of smoke is generally generated, but no fireball,” Punnett said.

The judge called the case against Kendall “predominantly circumstantial.”

Punnett did say he was satisfied the Crown established that “the second explosion was caused by high explosives, likely combined with fuel sources, and that the seat of the explosion was the location of the trailer.”

However, the evidence did not establish that rock crackers stored by Kendall in “the trailer initiated or were part of a chain or actions leading to the explosion, given other detonators were found.”

Punnett said evidence about whether or not Kendall knew of certain items on his property was entirely circumstantial.

The judge said he accepted Kendall’s evidence.

“The fact that he was an experienced blaster, well aware of the dangers involved in storing explosives, including the need to keep detonators separate from explosives in properly located and constructed magazines, supports this conclusion,” Punnett said.