By Brodie Thomas
PORT AUX BASQUES A propane explosion cleanly severed the Freemason’s Lodge in Port aux Basques into two sections early Friday morning.
Lodge member Lloyd Francis got the call around 1:05 a.m. about the building on Water Street.
“When they woke me and said the front had blown off, I was just thinking it was the siding or something like that,” said Francis, who is Lodge Master. “I didn’t think it was physically, literally blown off.”
In the apartments next door to the lodge, tenants were startled from their bed by the noise.
“I thought an 18-wheeler came through the side of the building,” said Hilda Caines. “That’s what it sounded like.”
Caines went outside to see what had happened. What she saw was enough to draw onlookers from all over Port aux Basques once the sun was up.
A smaller section of the building which contained the kitchen, bar and washrooms, was lifted up and forward 40 inches from the main hall by the force of the explosion.
Police and fire officials are fairly certain a propane tank leaked underneath the building after a line failed. The propane was then ignited, likely by a space heater meant to keep pipes from freezing.
Nobody was inside at the time of the explosion. There was no damage to nearby buildings.
By daylight Friday morning, onlookers walked around the building, peering through the three-foot gap at the damage inside the lodge, which was surprisingly minimal.
In the kitchen, dishes, pots and pans had spilled out of the cupboards and smashed on the floor. It looked as if they had been thrown by the force as the building quickly shifted in one direction.
In the men’s washroom, the lid had been flipped off the tank of a toilet just inches from where the police suspect the leak started.
Yet, except for a crack near the top, the toilet itself was still intact.
Strangely, all windows in the structure were undamaged except for one. A pane of glass fell out of that window and hit the ground. Even then, the pane remained unbroken.
There was almost no fire to speak of when members of the Port aux Basques Volunteer Fire Department arrived on the scene shortly after 12:30 a.m.
“We quickly got a bit of water and put it on the propane tanks,” said Chief Jerry Musseau. “That was probably out in five minutes.”
Musseau said the department evacuated nearby homes as a safety precaution.
The smell of propane was strong in the area and there was fear of a second explosion.
He said some neighbours told him the force of the blast knocked pictures of their walls.
The chief was amazed by the unusual nature of the damage.
“It’s the first time in my experience I’ve seen anything like this,” he said. “When you see the front part of that building move three feet from the main part, that’s some impact there.”
Sgt. Dale Foote with the Port aux Basques RCMP was also on the scene after the explosion. He noted the ice on one of the three 400-pound propane tanks outside the building.
That ice was a sign of a rapid leak, according to Foote.
He said the incident is a good reminder for anyone who uses propane as a fuel in their home.
“It is something for people to keep in mind with these tanks,” he said. “They need to inspect them regularly. I suggest before they start their fireplaces up in the fall, they should have their lines inspected.”
Francis and other lodge members had permission to enter the building by 9 a.m. Friday.
They retrieved a few valuables from the building as well as frozen turkeys from the kitchen.
He said they had recently turned on the propane in preparation for a turkey dinner fundraiser that was planned for Sunday.
The dinner was cancelled after the explosion.
Francis was unsure as to whether or not the building would be salvageable. He said that would be up to the insurance company.
The Gulf News