Officials reflect on Wheatley blast one year after explosion rocked town

It’s been one year since the explosion in downtown Wheatley and many who lived it and dealt with it are reflecting on the sombre anniversary.

The cause of the blast on August 26, 2021 is still under investigation but it’s suspected to be the result of gas leaking from an abandoned underground well.

No one was killed, but several people were injured.

Chatham-Kent Mayor Darrin Canniff said he feels for the residents because their lives have been ripped apart. The mayor said we need to look forward to make Wheatley a better place to live and is confident the town will be safe and get back to the way it was before the blast.

“Redeveloping the commercial aspect of things and bringing more housing there. As we get more housing the commercial will come,” said Mayor Canniff.

Canniff said getting Wheatley back on its feet has been the top priority over the last 12 months and hopes more positive strides will be made over the next year.

“I look forward to when we talk in two years at the two-year anniversary and we say look at how far we’ve come in the last two years. That’s what I’m looking forward to,” the mayor added.

Chatham-Kent Fire Chief Chris Case said there are lessons to be learned from this catastrophe.

“This is proof that there’s an incredible risk from these things and the more that we can learn, the more that we can do to try and prevent this from happening again,” the chief said.

Case said he’s been trained to deal with such situations, but never thought he would have to use it or witness it.

“I recall pulling up in the truck about 10 minutes after the explosion and coming across the injured people and it’s not something I ever thought I would see in Southwestern Ontario,” the chief noted.

Case said the blast changed him because it made him realize how lucky the municipality was to have volunteer firefighters work around the clock for months to reassure the community. Case noted he’s very impressed by the relentless and high level of commitment shown by police, fire, and paramedics during the last year.

Mayor Canniff believes towns across Ontario will be better prepared for a similar incident because of what happened in downtown Wheatley on August 26, 2021.

The province said it has provided just under $6 million so far to support eligible businesses during their lengthy closure.

“While much progress has been made, the complexity of the situation requires a methodical approach. As the investigation continues, Ontario and Chatham-Kent will continue to work to keep people safe while ensuring that remediation of the site happens as quickly as possible,” said Graydon Smith, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry and Trevor Jones, MPP for Chatham-Kent-Leamington in a statement.

The Municipality of Chatham-Kent spent at least $5.5 million on the emergency response and the investigation in downtown Wheatley until the end of 2021.

The slow recovery has angered some residents who were forced out of their homes for several months.

Steve Ingram is one of them. He previously called the way the municipality handled the gas leaks and the August 26, 2021 explosion “a disgrace.”


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