The skies of Prince George were already hazed over with forest fire smoke, but at 7 a.m. the air had an added acrid reek of much fresher, closer fire.
Those in the downtown area also detected the source right away, at about 7 a.m. on Tuesday morning (Aug. 22). It’s a moment many will have marked in their mental calendar the rest of their lives. That’s when one of the northern capital’s most popular restaurants, The Achillion, long ago closed and the building abandoned, exploded in a ball of fire.
“We rarely hear this, but we got the Code Orange call at the hospital this morning,” said an off-duty Northern Health worker who was at the scene observing the firefighting efforts. “It was only the Code Orange alert, which means we had to prepare for incoming large casualty numbers, but in the end there were three people brought in, and I heard of no fatalities.”
It was later confirmed by authorities that, relatively luckily, only one of those three suffered significant injuries, and that victim’s condition was not described as life-threatening.
“I felt it. I heard it. And I live (across the downtown),” said Brian Chang, owner of the landmark Marquee International Food & Gifts store exactly one block south of The Achillion. He immediately raced to the plume of smoke and fire he could see was near his shop. “I have a crack across my window, but Heartbreakers (nightclub) was in between me and the explosion, so they took the big hit. And it still cracked my window.”
Heartbreakers had recently changed hands, the new owners only taking possession a matter of months earlier, after the large dancehall and bar had been on the market for several years. It, The Achillion, a small store occupied by a hemp shop and doughnut shop, and two dominant UNBC buildings were all that occupied the perimeter of that block, with a large urban park in the middle. The extent of the damage to these immediately adjacent buildings was unknown as of yet.
Many business proprietors from the surrounding couple of blocks were quickly on-scene to survey the substantial collateral damage. The flames were still licking into the air out of the rubble of the former restaurant when these entrepreneurs were craning their necks across police tape talking on the phone with insurance representatives about the windows blown completely out of their buildings, facades broken, showcases destroyed, leaving worst case scenarios in their imagination about the condition of inventory and interior floor-space.
Prince George RCMP put the call out to the public later in the morning with an appeal for any information, most notably video footage, of the explosion.
“We are seeing on social media that there are several videos from people who passed by the scene moments after the explosion occurred,” said Cpl. Jennifer Cooper, media relations officer for the Prince George RCMP. “We are requesting those persons contact our non-emergency line to speak with investigators as we would like to see the original footage. Also, if anyone has dash camera footage, video surveillance or cell phone footage of the scene prior to emergency personnel arriving, we ask they speak with investigators, too. Those videos could be very important to our investigation.”
That phone number is 250-561-3321.
The potential causes of the explosion has not been publicly discussed by attending authorities.