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Raging inferno strikes plant

-- Explosion forces firefighters to retreat -- 65 employees thrown out of work

Eight firefighters were forced to beat a hasty retreat after a blast tore through the north wall of Omniglass on Sherwin Road early Monday. One firefighter was treated in hospital for minor injuries.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Eight firefighters were forced to beat a hasty retreat after a blast tore through the north wall of Omniglass on Sherwin Road early Monday. One firefighter was treated in hospital for minor injuries.

THE owner of Omniglass vowed Monday to reopen the production plant as soon as possible after a chemical-fuelled fire destroyed parts of the building, putting the future of 65 employees at risk.

Laurie Davies, who founded the fibreglass window and door manufacturer in 1983, said his property at 1205 Sherwin Rd. is insured.

"We’ve got to do whatever we can to get back in business as quickly as we can," said Davies.

"We’re going to try our best to continue the product supply," he added.

Damage is estimated at $15 million, Davies said. The cause remains under investigation.

Eight firefighters were forced to flee when a huge blast rocked the facility, which is near the Richardson International Airport, just after midnight Monday.

"They were very close to being killed," said Bill Clark, Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service assistant chief of operations. "That rattled everyone on the scene."

Clark described the explosion as a "huge concussion" that tore off parts of the roof and split the walls of the 60,000-square-foot plant.

"It blew the front off the building. It blew the overhead doors out where (firefighters) were standing, blew them out of the building, and they got banged up a bit," he said.

One firefighter had to be taken to hospital. He was released later Monday.

None of the workers was inside the building at the time.

Alex Forrest, United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg president, said the blaze was very dangerous.

"The reason it’s so dangerous is that any time you enter into a residence it’s dangerous enough, but when you go to a business it just kicks it up a notch, because businesses have toxic chemicals.

They have other aspects that when you mix it with fire cause explosions," said Forrest, who said the blaze meant the firefighters felt "they were very lucky to get out of there alive."

"It’s just one of those things that every time you go into a fire… especially in a business, you don’t know what’s on other side."

Chad Swayze, a Winnipeg Fire Department firefighter who was in a group of four who withstood the brunt of the explosion at the south of the building, said he was "pretty banged up and bruised" by what transpired.

"The building filled with the pressure and blew out from all sides, and we (just) happened to be closer to the source," Swayze said.

Davies said the building has a "lot of water damage in the front," and the older part of the building is "pretty much demolished."

"Then we have an addition in the back that seems to be OK," he said.

He said he hopes some of the equipment can be salvaged.

Later Monday, a man who said he works as a machine operator pulled up to check out the damage. "It’s a big loss," said the man, who didn’t want his name used.

Omniglass moved to the Sherwin Road location in 1996.

Firefighters remained on the scene throughout Monday, hosing down hot spots and watching for flare-ups.

gabrielle.giroday@freepress.mb.ca

‘They were very close to being killed. That rattled everyone on the scene’

— Bill Clark, Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service assistant chief of operations, of eight firefighters who were blown out of the burning building. One firefighter was sent to hospital

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