Fire chief says Wheatley evacuation zone will remain in place next week

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Chatham-Kent fire Chief Chris Case didn't mince words when it came to questions on when residents can return to their homes following last month's gas explosion in Wheatley.

"There will be nobody moving back to their homes next week," said Case.

More than 300 people tuned in for a virtual update from the municipality and the Ministry of Natural Resources Saturday morning.

Investigators have confirmed hydrogen sulphide gas is to blame for the blast that injured 20 people and leveled two buildings near Erie and Talbot Streets on Aug. 26, but Case says the exact source of that gas and how it ignited have yet to be determined.

"As firefighters we like to have solid information because we like to know what's going on and in this circumstance we just don't know," he says. "We're waiting for the investigation and technical advice to come in and tell us exactly what is going on at the site. I cannot give any indication of when people will be able to return back to the evacuation zone."

Debris clean up is underway, but Case says that doesn't mean it's safe for residents to return.

"People are saying 'there's no gas readings' and that's correct, but, we're beginning to see this pattern where the gas comes in very large quantities of pressure and then stops as quickly as it came," he says. "It's completely unpredictable and it's very difficult to manage in terms of a community safety response."

Officials say more than 150 households have sought out aid and the municipality is currently providing accommodations for 27 people.

Anyone with photos or information on former well locations near the area of 15 Erie Street North is asked to reach out to the municipality.

Officials also confirmed a Windsor law firm has expressed its intention to file a class action lawsuit against Chatham-Kent police, the municipality and the province following the Wheatley explosion.

Strosberg Sasso Sutts LLP said it plans to seek compensation for damages that were suffered as a result of the explosion.

According to a statement, the firm will be seeking general damages for, "physical and emotional injury, damage to property, relocation and other expenses including lost income."

— with files from CTV WIndsor.