Trucks

‘Fear bordering on panic’ at Port Kells fire

Inferno that destroyed Ken Johnson Trucking shop and tankers tops $1 million

An explosion and series of smaller blasts engulfed a Langley trucking business in an inferno that sent workers scurrying from neighbouring businesses on Tuesday afternoon.

The fire sent a massive cloud of dense black smoke into the air where it could be seen miles away.

It was a miracle that no one was killed, said the Township’s assistant fire chief, Bruce Ferguson.

One man, who was one of five in the Ken Johnson Trucking company’s shop at 9807 196A St., suffered burns to his back. He had been working on an empty tank trailer.

He was airlifted to Vancouver General Hospital. His condition is not known, but sources say that he was able to walk to a ground ambulance where he was assessed by B.C. Ambulance Service paramedics.

The man was one of five people in the shop of Ken Johnson Trucking which hauls fuel, oils and chemicals in tankers.

The explosion was so intense that it blew parts of the tanker on which the injured man had been working over the other side of the Golden Ears Bridge ramp, Ferguson said.

“It’s lucky that there weren’t several fatalities,” he said.

Ferguson estimated that the trucking company property lies approximately 200 metres from the bridge ramp.

The alarm came to Langley Fire Department at 2 p.m. as a commercial structure fire with a possible B.L.E.V.E, a Boiling Liquid Evaporating Vapour Explosion.

“It’s obvious that the explosion was the cause of the fire, but what caused the explosion is still to be determined,” Ferguson said.

He added that it’s only speculation that a spark from a welding torch was the cause. The smaller explosions that followed the initial blast were likely caused by bursting acetylene and oxygen tanks inside the shop where the men were working, he said.

Much of the thick smoke came from burning tires.

The explosion and fire caused “a lot of fear bordering on panic,” Ferguson said. “You could see it in the bystanders.”

Kelly Lough posted a message on The Times’ Facebook page: “I was sitting at my desk a few doors from Ken Johnson Trucking. The blast practically knocked me out of my chair.”

Video and aerial shots taken from CTV News Chopper 9 showed a number of vehicles on fire, and a large building engulfed in flames.

Ferguson said that one tractor, three trailers and a small pickup were destroyed. The company office escaped damage. It remained closed on Wednesday while investigators sifted through the debris. Power to the office and several other businesses was cut when transformers blew, but was expected to be restored by Thursday.

The emergency caused heavy congestion on roads in the Port Kells region and northwest Langley, prompting the closure of the Golden Ears Bridge in both directions, and a section of Telegraph Trail.

The fire drew one of the largest responses from surrounding municipalities.

Surrey and Langley City fire departments sent their aerial ladders to augment fire crews from Walnut Grove, Fort Langley, Willoughby and Murrayville.

Several agencies are investigating. These include Transport Canada, WorkSafe, and Human Resources Development Canada, the federal equivalent to WorkSafeBC.

Damage from the blast and fire is expected to exceed $1 million.