June 20, 2013 4:59 pm
Updated: June 21, 2013 2:52 pm

2 women killed in fireworks warehouse explosion west of Montreal


Watch: Domenic Fazioli reports from Montreal on the fireworks warehouse explosion

MONTREAL – Two women are dead after a violent explosion tore through a fireworks warehouse west of Montreal on Thursday morning, sending up an enormous plume of dark smoke that could be seen for miles.

Forty homes were evacuated as a result, including part of a nearby campground. The flames, which were under control by 1 p.m. ET, caused the adjacent highway to be shutdown, which caused a traffic jam.

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Just after 1 p.m. ET, officials said Highway 20 in the affected area would “soon” be re-opened to traffic.

Provincial police say the women’s bodies were found in the wreckage. According to the Quebec business registry, the company employs between six and 10 people.

An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the explosion.

The initial blast at B.E.M. Fireworks in Coteau-du-Lac near Valleyfield, about 60 kilometres southwest of Montreal, occurred just before 9 a.m. Thursday morning. The vibrations could be felt for miles.

Images from the scene showed a building completely destroyed by the explosion.  The company property included a store and a warehouse.

Watch: Raw video of smoke rising from scene of explosion

“We got really, really, really scared,” said Ginette Liboiron, who runs a convenience store across the highway overpass.

“I thought my store was falling to the ground. It shook like you can’t imagine…We all went outside to see and saw the big, incredible smoke.

“Then the fireworks went off.”

Watch: Dramatic raw video of fire, smoke and fireworks going off

B.E.M. has been designing and manufacturing pyrotechnics and fireworks for 25 years, according to its website.

Roland Desforges says his wife thought the explosion might have been a plane crash or an act of war. But he says he instantly suspected it might be the neighbouring fireworks plant.

Watch: Raw video outside of warehouse shortly after explosion

He says he went to the overpass to get a look.

He believes the initial explosion occurred in the middle of three buildings on the compound: in the production plant, which he says is centred between the fireworks store and its storage facility.

“In seconds there was nothing left,” Desforges, 68, said of the plant.

Watch: Scene of fireworks warehouse as fire continues to smoulder

Immediately after the explosion, a perimeter was set up around the factory, residences within a one-kilometre radius of the explosion site were evacuated and Highway 20 was closed near the area.

A large plume of smoke from the warehouse fire could be seen as far away as Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, over 20 kilometres away. Pictures from the scene show fireworks exploding in a surreal display as the fire spread.

Watch:  Mike Armstrong reports on the explosion and fire

Quebec provincial police have confirmed that Highway 20 has been closed near the area.

After being rerouted or delayed, Via Rail confirmed that trains were back up and running just before 11 a.m.

In pictures: Scenes from the explosion and surrounding area

© 2013 Shaw Media

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