Officials in London, Ont., say about eight to 10 homes have been severely damaged after a woman allegedly drove a vehicle into a house in the city’s Old East Village neighbourhood Wednesday night, subsequently striking a gas line and causing a large explosion.
Emergency crews were called to 450 Woodman Ave near Queens Avenue, east of the downtown core, at 10:37 p.m. Wednesday.
When police arrived, they located a female driver who had to be extricated from the vehicle and was arrested for suspected impaired driving.
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Daniella Alexandra Leis, 23, of Kitchener, has been charged with four counts of impaired operation causing bodily harm and impaired operation with a blood-alcohol concentration above the legal limit.
Officials said that about 12 minutes later, while police were still at the scene, there was a massive explosion that involved a number of residences.
London paramedics said they assessed 12 patients, and seven people, including police and fire personnel, were transported to hospital.
One civilian was taken to hospital with minor injuries.
Four firefighters were also taken to hospital, three of whom have been released. One firefighter remains in hospital in serious but stable condition with unknown injuries. Jason Timlick, president of the London Professional Firefighters Association, said the injured firefighter has been a member of the department since February 2017.
Two police officers also sustained minor injuries and were transported to hospital but have since been released.
“What I saw last night was a very significant explosion. In my career I haven’t seen an explosion of that magnitude,” said Jack Burt, London’s acting deputy fire chief, during a news conference at the scene late Thursday morning.
Burt said many area residents were already outside of their homes due to the commotion. “As a direct result of that, I think that mitigated the potential for a lot of injuries that could have occurred here today.”
“I know I speak on behalf of all Londoners when I say thank you to our first responders, as they do so often — they risk their own safety to ensure the safety of others. We wish full and speedy recoveries to all who were injured,” said London Mayor Ed Holder during a separate news conference earlier in the morning.
Several homes in the area were damaged in varying degrees by the explosion. At least seven along Woodman Avenue were impacted by fire as a result of raining debris.
“We had fire that literally went up in the air as part of the explosion and came down on other homes and started them on fire,” Burt said.
The home that was struck by the vehicle is occupied but no one was inside the residence at the time of the crash, officials said.
About 100 homes within the area were evacuated, and hydro and gas service was cut off to the area and remained off into the afternoon. Electrical service was set to be restored to all but the affected 12 homes as of Thursday evening. It’s expected gas service will be restored to most of the area Friday morning.
The City of London said Quebec and Charlotte streets will reopen to vehicular traffic Thursday evening, but Woodman Street will only be open to walk-in traffic.
“I’m not going to make any promises I can’t keep, at this point,” Burt said, adding fire officials will be going building-by-building to determine the structural stability of nearby residences.
The London Fire Department said the Ontario Fire Marshal was expected to arrive early Thursday to determine the cause, origin and circumstances of the incident.
While the fire is under control, fire officials said the on-scene investigation was expected to last several days.
“Like a lot of people in the neighbourhood, I heard a big explosion. I thought, actually, a tree had fallen on the house. The house was shaking,” Ward 4 Coun. Jesse Helmer told Global News early Thursday.
“I think people were afraid at first, then they’re shocked and then they want to help. They want to see what they can do to help.”
In videos shared on social media, residential debris can be seen strewn on lawns as large orange flames light up the sky.
An Enbridge spokesperson said gas service was cut to 54 customers in the immediate area as a safety precaution at the time of the explosion.
WATCH: Aftermath of explosion in London’s Old East Village
Mayor Holder noted that area residents stepped up during the incident.
“We have also heard stories of heroism, kindness and compassion involving neighbours helping neighbours and strangers assisting those in need,” Holder said.
The City of London said affected and displaced residents that were sent to Carling Heights Optimist Community Centre later moved to hotels or found alternate arrangements. The City said it would continue to provide support to those impacted.
Roads in the immediate area remained closed to traffic late as of late Thursday afternoon.
Leis, who has been charged in this incident, is expected to appear in a London court on Sept. 4.
— With files from Jess Brady.