Evacuated Wheatley residents won’t be back in homes next week

More community consultations are expected as the investigation continues into the source of what caused a massive gas explosion in downtown Wheatley late last month.

Chatham-Kent Fire Chief Chris Case was blunt Saturday morning, when curious residents asked when they can return to their homes following the Aug. 26 evacuation and explosion.

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

More than 325 people watched the live virtual update from the municipality and the Ministry of Natural Resources Saturday morning. Chief Case says it’s difficult to provide the answers people want, because many unknowns remain in place.

“We’re giving the answers about what we know right now,” Case explained the current issue is that the source of the gas leak has yet to be determined and has proved unpredictable. Case says, “we need to know more and we’ve needed to know more for a little while now.”

Investigators have confirmed hydrogen sulphide gas led to the blast that injured more than 20 people, sending three municipal workers to hospital with serious, but non-life threatening injuries and levelling two buildings near Erie and Talbot Streets.

Case says the exact source of the gas and how it ignited have yet to be determined, while Chatham-Kent’s CAO says the Office of the Ontario Fire Marshall cleared it’s on-scene investigation Friday evening.

Shropshire explained determining the next steps remains difficult until the source is located.

“There could have been a change in some of the pathways that had the gas go into the 15 Erie Street North property, that could have changed the situation geologically so that now the gas is going some place else.”

Strategic cleanup is underway as the threat of another explosion remains real and evacuation orders remain in place.

Windsor-based law firm Strosberg Sasso Sutts LLP expressed its intention to file a class action lawsuit against Chatham-Kent police, the municipality and the province following the Wheatley explosion.

“We did receive notice of that intended class action lawsuit (Friday) afternoon,” said Dave Taylor, Chatham-Kent’s director of legal service, during a media conference call that followed the community session. “At this time we really just can’t make any other comments about it but certainly we’ll be reviewing it.”

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

Anyone with photos or information on former gas well locations near the area of the explosion is asked to reach out to the municipality, as are any residents who evacuated and have not informed municipal staff yet.