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Man near blast escapes with minor injuries

Officials examine the remains of a shipping container, used as a makeshift office for construction workers, after an explosion Friday at a building site on Cloverdale Avenue.

Times Colonist

A Saanich neighbourhood is picking up the pieces today after a massive explosion on a construction site Friday hurled debris at least a block, crumpled metal containers and shattered the windows of nearby homes and vehicles.

A man at the centre of the blast walked away with minor injuries.

“If you look at the shards of metal and the debris and the devastation … it is amazing that no one was hurt, especially this gentleman who was standing within approximately a metre of this huge explosion,” said Saanich Police Const. Gord Bedingfield.

Searidge superintendent Brad Shankland was opening the Midtown Park construction site when the blast occurred about 6:30 a.m.

A 44-unit, five-storey condominium is being built on the site at 935 Cloverdale Ave., near Inverness Road. Shankland was assessed at Victoria General Hospital and released.

A leak from a 20-pound barbecue propane tank — stored inside a large steel shipping container used as a makeshift office for construction workers — is suspected to be the cause of the blast, police said. Shankland was inside one of five containers on the site when the container beside his blew up, said tradespeople at the scene.

The blast blew out both ends of the container, hurtled the roof 15 metres and shot one of the doors about 100 metres across the site, over Inverness Road and into Rutledge park, where there is a playground. The explosion, which was heard and felt kilometres away, also blew out windows in a condominium that backs onto the site.

Fire and police investigators are looking into whether propane seeped from the tank, filled the shipping container with gas and was somehow ignited, Bedingfield said.

“We don’t know whether [the explosion] was sparked by a cigarette or by sparks from opening the doors or some other source of ignition,” Bedingfield said.

Police and fire officials ruled out foul play. Worksafe B.C. is investigating it as an industrial accident.

Dina Unti, who lives across the street on Cloverdale, was having her morning coffee about 6:20 a.m. when the explosion blasted out her windows, ripped open her locked, thick front door and smashed her ceramic gecko collection.

The bathroom cabinet came off the wall and broke the toilet.

“There was two huge bangs, my microwave door popped open, my phone receiver popped out of its cradle, the clock came down, pictures fell off the walls,” Unti said.

Capt. Dusty Miller at the Commissionaires headquarters down the block likened the boom to bombs going off.

“All the pictures fell off my wall,” Miller said. He went outside and saw a construction worker at the site. “He was holding his arm and seemed to be in total shock.”

Gerry Koutougos, the owner of the Midtown Park development, arrived on scene after the blast. He said the container was used by Searidge Properties, which manages the project.

“As long as no one was seriously hurt, I’m OK,” Koutougos said. Citing minimal damage to the site, Koutougos doesn’t expect the explosion to set back the project, slated for completion in November.

Mike Hardy, foreman for the carpentry workers, looked grim as he surveyed the damage.

The man who would have been opening the destroyed container at the time of the blast was 10 minutes late for work, he said.

Another 30 minutes later, at about 7 a.m., the entire site would have been filled with as many as 30 tradespeople.

You could have had “bodies all over the bloody parking lot,” Hardy said.