Ammonia leak at Fernie, B.C., arena leaves three dead, area evacuated

By on October 18, 2017


The City of Fernie said as of Tuesday evening, emergency crews couldn't safely enter the Fernie Memorial Arena where three fatalities had been confirmed. (Photo: City of Fernie/Facebook)
The City of Fernie said as of Tuesday evening, emergency crews couldn’t safely enter the Fernie Memorial Arena where three fatalities had been confirmed. (Photo: City of Fernie/Facebook)

FERNIE, B.C. — Three people are dead after a possible ammonia leak at an arena in Fernie, B.C., that also triggered an evacuation of homes and businesses in the area.

The City of Fernie said as of Tuesday evening, emergency crews couldn’t safely enter the Fernie Memorial Arena where three fatalities had been confirmed.

WorkSafeBC said based on preliminary information, three workers were exposed to a gas leak that was possibly ammonia shortly before noon.

The city’s fire department had contacted WorkSafeBC about the incident and RCMP are now leading the investigation of the site.

Fernie fire chief Ted Ruiter said the situation was “somewhat under control.”

“Anytime you’re dealing with fatalities it’s always tough,” he said of the event’s impact on his crews. “We’re a small city and everybody knows each other. It’s very hard to deal with, for sure.”

The city said further details about the victims will be released once they are identified and their next of kin are informed.

The city said in a news release it is working with CIMCO Refrigeration and trying to get additional specialized resources to deal with the hazardous situation.

Ruiter said B.C.’s Ministry of Environment is also sending staff to assist with monitoring and to determine what the next steps will be.

Homes and businesses in the area, including a retirement home, have been evacuated.

“We’re still concerned about some ammonia leaking into the environment,” he said.

Officials have not said if other people were inside the facility at the time of the gas leak.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety says ammonia is a colourless gas that is very toxic if inhaled and can cause death.

Ammonia can cause severe irritation of the nose and throat and life-threatening accumulation of fluid in the lungs.

Symptoms of ammonia poisoning may include coughing, shortness of breath, difficult breathing and tightness in the chest. The centre also says symptoms may develop hours after exposure and are made worse by physical effort.

Ammonia is used a fertilizer, to make plastics, fibres and other chemicals, as a refrigerant and other applications.