2 dead in fireworks factory explosion
MONTREAL - Two people are dead after a major fire ripped through a fireworks factory Thursday morning southwest of Montreal.
The explosion sent smoke billowing hundreds of metres into the air and forced police to evacuate the area within 1 km from the burning buildings.
Firefighters started battling the blaze at 10 a.m., an hour after witnesses reported hearing a loud explosion. Witnesses said they heard an explosion as far as 10 km away from the BEM fireworks factory in the town of Coteau-du-Lac, about 50 km southwest of Montreal.
The fire destroyed at least two buildings on the BEM factory site.
Provincial police spokeswoman Joyce Kemp said the cause of the blast is under investigation.
The two people killed are believed to be factory employees, however, police did not release their identities.
About 150 firefighters from 14 stations had the blaze under control by 1 p.m.
Provincial police evacuated about 40 residences and part of a nearby camping site. By late afternoon, residents and campers were able to return.
Stephane Massicotte, head of Coteau-du-Lac's fire department, told reporters Thursday that the fire released some metals into the atmosphere, "but nothing catastrophic for the environment."
Massicotte said that the fireworks factory did not have a sprinkler system.
Chemists with Quebec's environmental emergency department tested air quality at the blast site. Eric Santerre, spokesman for the agency, told QMI Agency that the results showed that the air quality around the blast site was not dangerous. Firefighters were still on site at 4 p.m. cleaning up debris. The flames continued at the factory for hours, sending fireworks crackling in the air long after the initial early morning blast.
The fire destroyed vehicles parked near the factory buildings and debris was strewn all over the explosion site.
Denise Ballard, who works at a camping site about 1 km from the fireworks factory, told QMI Agency that the explosion was so loud, "I thought a helicopter had crashed on the roof of my trailer. The ground shook."
She said fireworks had been exploding every few minutes since the explosion.
Robert Sauve, mayor of Coteau-du-Lac, told QMI Agency that the factory was working at high capacity producing fireworks for Canada Day and Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day celebrations.
BEM Fireworks has been in business for over 25 years, according to the company's website. The Quebec's government's business registry lists BEM as partly owned by Bernard and Monique Masson, both of whom could not reach on Thursday.