October 10, 2018 7:58 am
Updated: October 10, 2018 6:57 pm

Pipeline explosion near Prince George forces about 100 evacuations from First Nation community

A gas pipeline operated by Enbridge exploded, sending flames shooting towards the sky on Tuesday evening in the community of Shelley, northeast of Prince George, B.C.

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As many as 100 people have been evacuated from the reserve of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation north of Prince George after a pipeline explosion generated a massive fire that could be seen from the campus of the University of Northern B.C. (UNBC) on Tuesday.

Enbridge confirmed that a rupture happened on a line it owns and operates at about 5:45 p.m., about 13.5 kilometres north of Prince George, said a company statement.

WATCH: Joshua Seymour was right nearby when a pipeline ruptured close to Prince George

The rupture happened at a site in a rural area and no injuries were reported.

Emergency crews with the company responded, isolated and were working to depressurize two natural gas transmissions lines in the area so that the incident could be contained, the statement added.

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WATCH: Aerials show the aftermath of Enbridge pipeline explosion near Prince George

The Prince George RCMP confirmed that an explosion happened, forcing evacuations in the immediate vicinity of the fire.

In a news release, police said they responded to a call about an explosion close to Landooz Road at about 5:30 p.m.

Homes within several kilometres were evacuated, but the evacuation zone was later reduced to one kilometre.

RCMP were on scene throughout the night and most of the impacted residents have since been allowed to return home.

WATCH: ‘It’s raining down ash’: Gas pipeline explodes north of Prince George, B.C.

RCMP said the explosion “appeared to have” involved an Enbridge natural gas pipeline, and that there were no injuries nor any reported damage except to the pipeline itself.

The gas supply was shut down and there’s not yet any indication of what caused the blast.

The explosion has prompted a warning from FortisBC, saying it is anticipating a dip in energy flow and potential loss of service.

WATCH: Pipeline explosion near Prince George could impact Fortis customers

The pipeline feeds the utility’s natural gas system, which has Fortis urging customers to turn off their thermostats and reduce use of their natural gas appliances.

A similar warning has been issued in Washington state.

FortisBC estimates about 70 per cent of its one million customers have the potential to lose gas supply due to the incident.

Bryan Seymour took this video from the reserve of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation, which is located nearby.

Seymour heard a “big explosion” around 6 p.m. that left his house shaking.

He initially thought it was an excavator, as development has been happening close to his home — but the noise “carried on longer than it should have.”

“My mother got up to look out the window, she saw a big cloud of smoke, a mushroom cloud of fire,” Seymour said.

He said there are two reserves that straddle the Fraser River near Prince George, and the explosion happened on the north side, between the reserve and the Salmon Valley.

WATCH: Enbridge natural gas pipeline explodes near Prince George

Seymour went on to say a pipeline runs under the First Nation’s evacuation route, leaving residents “kind of shaken” that they had to drive over it.

He noted, however, that there was a shutoff valve on the side of the road.

Social media lit up with photos and video of the fire, which appeared to be burning at a distance from the city, though it was still visible there.

A video shot from the UNBC campus by JP Martin shows a fireball burning in the distance.

Martin, a schoolteacher in the Prince George school district, described it as a “massive, massive fireball.”

He said that he stood on the campus watching the fire for about 15 minutes and that the fireball stayed “very, very big, and every once in a while it would definitely expand.”

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Martin said the winds were too strong to hear any possible explosions, but he said the strength of the fire didn’t dissipate while he was there.

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Prince George resident Marc Paulsen took the following photo at about 5:45 p.m.

Wendy Spraggs, another Prince George resident, described hear a “sonic boom” when the explosion happened.

“We looked across the river, and just beyond the trees there was a huge fireball going into the sky,” she said.

“We knew it was a pipeline because that was all it could be with that kind of noise.”

Spraggs was first to call the incident into Spectra Energy, a company that does maintenance work on pipelines.

She later received a call back from Enbridge.

Spraggs said the fire only lasted temporarily — the sky was dark again by the time she spoke with Global News.

  • With files from CKPG, Jon Azpiri, and Sarah MacDonald

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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