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Ten rescued from explosion

photo527.jpgA catastrophic explosion levelled the staff accommodation building at Pyramid Riding Stables on Saturday, sending ten to hospital.

The blast occurred at 11:20 p.m., lighting up the night sky and casting flames into the trees. Insulation was thrown high into the branches, as the flames reached at least 20 feet above the burning building. 

The explosion blew the roof and three walls off of the staff accommodation building, and threw seven individuals out. Two were rescued by firefighters and another was able to get himself out.

A guest at Pyramid Stables, Justin Byrne, pulled seven people away from the flaming staff accommodation and moved the casualties out of harm’s way, while EMS crews treated them for shock, broken bones, cuts and bruises before they were taken to hospital.

“The quick action of a civilian saved seven lives,” said RCMP Sgt. Steve Pavlov. 

Fire Chief Greg Van Tighem said his crew quickly extracted two other people from the building. Firefighters used a rescue saw to cut through the debris in a harrowing rescue at one of the hottest parts of the building.

“The guys got two out in extremely difficult conditions. The fire was on top of them,” Van Tighem said.

The 10 casualties were taken to Seton General Hospital with non-life threatening injuries, however at least three people were taken to Hinton via ambulance then flown to Edmonton University Hospital with various non-life threatening injuries. 

Other residents away at the time of the blast were in tears after discovering their home engulfed in flames, as they scrambled for answers. Victim services was on scene to provide support.

“They are all very lucky to be alive,” said Parks Canada warden Darien Sillence.

At the scene, none of the casualties remembered the explosion. The nature of the blast indicated it was a gas explosion, and the building is heated by propane. No other gas fuel sources were found at the scene.

Determining the ignition point of gas explosions is difficult, Van Tighem said, however investigators were expected to have completed their study of the scene by July 20.

Every available emergency responder from the fire department, EMS, RCMP and Parks Canada arrived on scene. With so many unknown factors, crews had to work quickly to keep everyone safe and contain the blaze to one building.

“It was pandemonium. There were a lot of unknowns,” Van Tighem said. 

A truck had to be towed away from the fire, and a garage next to staff accommodation full of gasoline and other explosive substances had to be emptied.

“Our concern was the other structures. We didn’t want the fire to spread to the shop building and the gazebo, which is all lumber,” Van Tighem said.

Fire crews also kept the blaze from spreading to the forest. There were several locations where the fire threatened to spread into the trees, Van Tighem said.

Since there is no fire hydrant on Pyramid Lake Road, fire crews had to use the hydrant at the base of the hill four kilometres away to fill their pumper trucks. A relay system was set up between the town and the fire.

A second garage beside the staff accommodation also caught fire, however crews were able to save the other structures, including a hay barn next to the burning building. All of the horses were also moved to a separate paddock as a safety precaution, and were in no danger. Pavlov said one dog was killed in the blast.

The fire is still under investigation, and the provincial fire inspector was brought in to determine the exact cause of the blaze on July 19.

Both Van Tighem and EMS manager Paul Kennedy praised the work of their crews, as volunteers and off-duty paramedics showed up to handle the emergency in a professional manner.

“I can’t say enough about how great the response was… almost all off-duty staff came in for that,” Kennedy said.

Some of the causalities remain in Edmonton Hospital. According to her mother, Roxanne Graveline, Sophie Graveline suffered a fractured shoulder, bad concussion and a bleeding liver in the explosion. Her friend and co-worker Laura Park is recovering in Seton General Hospital with several cuts, bruises and lacerations. Another girl suffered a spine fracture, while Talisa Chelick suffered two broken legs and was transferred to Edmonton on Monday for surgery.

According to Verne Balding, manager of corporate services with the Town of Jasper, three people have been released from hospital following the explosion, four remain at Seton General Hospital and three are still in Edmonton University Hospital. He also praised all emergency responders for a yeoman’s effort.

“The speed of the response almost certainly saved lives,” Balding said.

The community has rallied to help those who lost their homes and possessions in the blast. Items for the victims such as clothes, supplies and regular household items can be dropped off at Community Outreach Services. Donations collected at the Skinny Basketball Tournament and barbecue this weekend will also go to those affected by the explosion.

Mountain Park Lodges, which owns Pyramid Riding Stables, has provided temporary accommodation for the casualties, and has purchased some clothing and supplies.

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