Diggers reminded of safety precautions on 40th anniversary of Mill Woods explosion

News source from CTV News

Historians and safety advocates gathered in Mill Woods Saturday to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the largest peacetime civic evacuation in Canadian history.

On March 2, 1979, a young Peter Clark unknowingly drove into a cloud of propane and sparked an explosion.  

He had been making a last-minute delivery on the Friday with the hope of finishing work early. When his vehicle entered the cloud of gas, Clark immediately smelled it.

“It was just like the world slowed down and I knew I didn’t want to go any further into it,” recalled Clark, now 63 years old.

“The truck stalled. Again it was like a little voice saying, ‘No, you don’t want to be trying to restart it.’”

Within seconds, his vehicle was consumed by a giant fireball. Blinded by the flames, he dove into the snow. A bystander found him unconscious and rushed him to hospital.

Later, investigators would find the 228,000 gallon leak had been caused by a line damaged by a contractor weeks earlier. The fuel effectively created a moving bomb in Edmonton’s sewer system.

Hours after Clark incidentally ignited the blast, crews were able to shut off the pipe and the propane wafted into Edmonton’s river valley.

But it was initially unclear who owned the pipe.

The incident would spark a provincial inquiry and lead to the creation of Alberta One Call and the Edmonton Area Pipeline Utility Operator’s Committee.

Currently, Edmonton still has thousands of kilometres of high-pressure pipeline running beneath its surface. Both Alberta One Call and EAPUOC work to improve communication between the owners of buried facilities, like pipes, and digging crews.

They advocate diggers submit a location request to Alberta One Call ahead of a job.

“If you’re going to be digging, don’t think twice,” said the organization’s president, Mike Sullivan. “Always, always, always click before you dig.”

Such a safety measure could have saved Clark years of suffering, but he’s grateful his experience hasn’t been without effect.

“I survived, had a pretty good life and have seen some really good changes come out of that incident.”

With files from Regan Hasegawa ​



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