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Local emergency declared in Fernie after three die at arena

Last Updated Oct 18, 2017 at 6:39 am PST

Three men were killed in an ammonia leak at Fernie Memorial Arena in October, 2017. (Courtesy Fernie Tourism)

FERNIE – Three people are dead after a possible ammonia leak at an arena in Fernie – an event that has now triggered a local state of emergency after an evacuation order on Tuesday.

According to the City of Fernie, the state of emergency is expected to stay in effect until October 24th.

Those who had been evacuated have all been provided places to stay for now.

As for Tuesday’s events, local emergency crews couldn’t safely enter the Fernie Memorial Arena where three fatalities had been confirmed.

WorkSafeBC said based on preliminary information, three workers were exposed to a gas leak that was possibly ammonia shortly before noon.

The city’s fire department had contacted WorkSafeBC about the incident and RCMP are now leading the investigation of the site.

Fernie fire chief Ted Ruiter said the situation was a difficult one.

“Anytime you’re dealing with fatalities it’s always tough,” he said of the event’s impact on his crews. “We’re a small city and everybody knows each other. It’s very hard to deal with, for sure.”

The city said the victims’ next of kin have been notified and their identities are not being released at this time.

The city said in a news release it is working with CIMCO Refrigeration and is trying to get obtain additional specialized resources to deal with the hazardous situation.

Officials have not said if other people were inside the facility at the time of the gas leak.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety says ammonia is a colourless gas that is very toxic if inhaled and can cause death.

Ammonia can cause severe irritation of the nose and throat and life-threatening accumulation of fluid in the lungs.

Symptoms of ammonia poisoning may include coughing, shortness of breath, difficult breathing and tightness in the chest. The centre also says symptoms may develop hours after exposure and are made worse by physical effort.

Ammonia is used in fertilizer, to make plastics, fibers and other chemicals, as a refrigerant and other applications.