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Propane leak to blame for deadly explosions

TORONTO - A leak during an illegal propane transfer is to blame for a series of explosions that sent fireballs hurtling into the early morning sky over a Toronto neighbourhood, report excerpts show.

TORONTO - A leak during an illegal propane transfer is to blame for a series of explosions that sent fireballs hurtling into the early morning sky over a Toronto neighbourhood, report excerpts show.

A report by the Ontario Fire Marshal's Office into the 2008 blasts at a Sunrise Propane facility was completed last month, said a city councillor who is urging the agency to make the full report public.

"I don't see why it has to be kept from public view," said Maria Augimeri, who represents the area in northwest Toronto that was hit by the explosion nearly two years ago.

"I think that people in the Downsview area are owed an explanation."

Augimeri sent five pages of excerpts from the report she said is dated July 9 to the media, but it wasn't immediately clear how she obtained the report, which she held at a news conference Wednesday.

"We want closure and we're certainly not going to get closure in this community with a report like this that's still being kept in the shadows."

The fire marshal's office did not respond to a request seeking comment or to a question about how or if their reports are usually made public.

Thousands of residents were ordered to leave their homes following the early-morning blast on Aug. 10, 2008, and major highways were shut as two propane tanks continued to burn more than five hours after the explosion.

Parminder Singh Saini, a 25-year-old Sunrise employee who had been in Canada just eight months to study manufacturing management at Sheridan College, was killed in the explosion.

Bob Leek, 55, a firefighter who responded to the emergency call on his day off, also died after collapsing at the site.

The report excerpts show the fire marshal's office has classified the explosion as accidental mechanical failure. During an improper "tank-to-tank" transfer, liquid propane leaked from a hose, vaporized and came into contact with an unknown ignition source, resulting in the explosion, the report said.

Several potential ignition sources were in the area, but the investigation couldn't determine which sparked the explosion. The excerpts did not specify what those ignition sources were.

The Technical Standards and Safety Authority had previously issued a cease and desist order on Sunrise instructing them to stop tank-to-tank transfers.

The excerpts contain blacked-out sections, but it appears as though upon discovering the leak someone "ran from the area leaving all the valves open and hoses connected ... He advised us that he made no attempt to activate the emergency shut-off."

Augimeri is calling on the Ontario government to make the authority an accountable government agency, in light of its earlier tank-to-tank warning that apparently went unheeded.

She also wants the provincial government to let municipalities decide where propane depots can be located, and to take a greater role in enforcing safety standards.

Sunrise Propane, the TSSA, the landlords of the former Sunrise Propane property and a truck company that transported propane are facing a $170-million lawsuit.

A four-day hearing is set to start Nov. 29 to determine whether the lawsuit can proceed as a class action.

Harvin Pitch, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the proposed class-action lawsuit, said the report bolsters his clients' arguments.

"It confirms our understanding that the explosion was caused as a result of the truck-to-truck transfer, which was prohibited by the TSSA," said Pitch, who was provided a copy of the report through the court case.

"It confirms our theory of liability and that we're on the right track."

 
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