We were woken by the fire truck and police sirens, and when I went for my morning walk the streets were blocked off and there was a whole fleet of ambulances, fire trucks and police cars lining the street.
A few years ago our neighbours' house burned down. It was this time of year and the middle of the night. The neighbours had to have their house gutted and rebuilt before they could move back in. It took almost 6 months.
Today's events meant that 36 homes were evacuated for more than 12 hours. In spite of that, I am sure they are relieved that this was the extent of their inconvenience. The families whose houses were affected by the explosion and fires will feel the repercussions of the last 24 hours for months to come.
REGINA — When Eunice Polasek was first awakened early Monday morning, it was to what she initially thought was the sound of thunder.
She went back to sleep, but was startled awake minutes later by her frantically ringing doorbell. When she and her houseguest went to answer the door, her female neighbour from across the street literally fell into her arms.
Across the road, John and Helen Neiles' house was engulfed in flames following an explosion. Later that morning, nothing was left of the home but a pile of debris.
"She was obviously distraught and she was injured," Polasek said about her first observations of Helen, her neighbour of about 40 years. "There were signs of burns on her clothes and that sort of thing, but we got her into the house and went to get help . . .
"She was able to say that there was an explosion, that she had ended up in the backyard. I asked her about her husband and then she said he was OK . . . (She said) she was blown out. They were in bed and that's where she ended up was out the back of the house."
Regina Fire Department spokeswoman Angela Prawzick said emergency crews responded at 4:31 a.m. Monday to 9-1-1 calls reporting an explosion and a fire at 1004 Shannon Rd.
"By the time our crews arrived on scene — and they were on scene within about three minutes — they encountered very heavy fire conditions in the home," she said. "Basically the home was what we call fully involved. It was full of fire."
The couple was treated at the scene by EMS and then taken to hospital. It's believed the injuries to John — a retired educator from Balfour Collegiate after whom the school's gym is named — were minor, while Helen was taken to hospital in serious condition.
Meanwhile, the fire had also spread to the two houses flanking 1004 Shannon Rd. Prawzick said the home at 1008 Shannon Rd. sustained fire damage in the attic area, though fire crews were able to keep it from spreading to the rest of the house. The other house, 1000 Shannon Rd., didn't experience as much damage — which was just as well, because it was the scene of a house fire almost exactly one day prior at 5:19 a.m. Sunday.
"It was a basement fire . . . ," Prawzick said of the Sunday incident. "There were four people in this home at the time of this fire. All four escaped from the home. One person, an adult male, did sustain burn injuries to his hands. This family was helped by the family that, 24 hours later, experienced an explosion in their home."
Yet another house fire was reported in the immediate area at about 5:45 a.m. Monday — this one at 27 Norris Rd., just a short walk away. There was one person home, but he was able to escape safely, Prawzick said. The fire in that house was in the basement area, where extensive fire damage was reported. The rest of the home sustained smoke damage.
Homes on Woodlawn Place, Norris Road and parts of Shannon Road were initially evacuated, leaving about 60 people temporarily on the street or on buses that were provided for shelter. Later in the morning, residents on other parts of Shannon Road — some directly across the street from the exploded house — were also asked to leave. In all, at least 62 homes were evacuated.
SaskEnergy took readings throughout the day inside and outside every house in the area, as well as in the sewer lines and catch basins. When the situation was deemed safe and readings showed no presence of natural gas anywhere in the area, power and gas was restored. Residents were allowed to return to their homes at about 3 p.m.
The fires in the Whitmore Park area are now being investigated. Prawzick said fire investigators will look into whether there's a connection between the fires as well as what caused them.
During the day, the entire area was crawling with firefighters, fire investigators, city police and employees from SaskEnergy and SaskPower. Also on hand was a crew from The Salvation Army's Community Response Unit.
Capt. Terri Wallace said she and her colleagues arrived at about 7 a.m. to serve drinks and snacks to area residents and emergency workers, as well as to provide a supportive ear for affected residents.
"One of the things we are doing is just listening to people share their stories," she said. "It could be anything. It's just people need to talk."
Some area residents said they were literally shaken awake by the blast.
"We thought it was a propane tank that blew up because that was just so loud," said Krystle Ruzicka who lives on the other side of Shannon Road. "And the house kind of shook . . . I thought half the city blew up. It was loud."
Meanwhile Talia Wainwright, visiting her mother on Shannon Road, was also startled awake by the sound of the explosion.
"I thought something actually came through the window," she said. "I jumped up right away, my cats took off and I turned and looked outside and all you could see was flames shooting out everywhere. But I thought our house exploded, that's how bad you could feel it."
Some area residents said they were nervous about the idea of returning home with several fires having occurred in the area within such a small space of time.
"It's kind of scary because we don't know really what's causing it all," said Sharon Wainwright, Talia's mother.
Others were pleased to receive the go-ahead to return home.
"I'm absolutely fine with (going back into my house)," said Woodlawn Place resident John Moran. "I have no problem whatsoever because I know that they would have taken care of any liability issue."
As Wayne Billingsley was going back into his house, he wasn't afraid of any potential problems.
"Not with them doing a check and lighting the furnace and fireplaces," said Billingsley. "They've checked the lines ... We're glad to get back to the house."
Meanwhile, thoughts are going out to the Neileses.
"They are beautiful people," Moran said of his neighbours. "I just hope no harm has come to them. To rebuild what they had — I would help however way I could."
Balfour athletic director Glen Fekula described John as "an outstanding individual and an outstanding leader."
"He and his wife, Helen, often return to the gym and continue to support Balfour," he said. "They're a very nice couple and they've offered continued support for Balfour in every way. I wish them well and hope they're all right."
Polasek said the couple have family in Regina and a good support system.
"Hopefully, she'll be fine," she said. "Amazing, absolutely amazing that it wasn't a bigger tragedy than what it was.
Some area residents said they'd smelled what they thought was natural gas in the days leading up to the explosion while others said they hadn't. SaskEnergy is reminding people that if they believe they smell natural gas — similar to the smell of rotten eggs — that they report it immediately by calling SaskEnergy at 1-888-7000-GAS.
-with files from Barb Pacholik, Taylor Shire, Karin Yeske and Rob Vanstone
Read more: http://www.leaderpost.com/Regina+house+explosion+under+investigation/4594590/story.html#ixzz1JHAyfZ1y
Glad to be ok.