Three dead in ammonia leak

UPDATE: Wednesday 6:38 a.m.

Three people are dead after a possible ammonia leak at an arena in Fernie on Tuesday night that also forced an evacuation of homes, businesses and a retirement home in the immediate area.

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

The city said details about the victims would be released once they are identified and their next of kin are notified.

The city, which has declared a seven-day local state of emergency, said residents in the evacuation area have been provided overnight accommodations. There was no immediate word on how many people had to leave the area.

Fire chief Ted Ruiter said the situation was "somewhat under control" although emergency crews were still waiting to safely enter the Fernie Memorial Arena late Tuesday where the deaths occurred.

"We're still concerned about some ammonia leaking into the environment," he said.

Officials have not said if others were inside the facility at the time of the leak. Ruiter said there were no injuries in addition to the deaths.

He said WorkSafeBC had been contacted about the incident and the RCMP was leading the investigation at the site.

"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 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.

Ammonia is commonly used in mechanical refrigeration systems, including those found in ice rinks. Ammonia is used in liquid form in these systems but becomes a gas once it is released into the air.

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

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.

– The Canadian Press

ORIGINAL: Tuesday 7 p.m.

Three people are confirmed dead after an ammonia leak at Fernie Memorial Arena.

In a post on the city website, Fernie city officials said three people have died and emergency crews are still unable to safely enter the arena.

CIMCO Refrigeration is on scene assisting city crews, and the city is working to acquire additional specialized resources to deal with the hazardous situation.

All homes between 9th Street and 13th Street and Highway 3 and 6th Ave remain on evacuation order, as well as Red Apple, 7-Eleven and Trinity Lodge.

Residents who live in the evacuated area are asked to report to Emergency Social Services at the Senior Citizens Drop-In Centre, 562 3rd Ave.

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