Ammonia leak forces evacuation

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo A fire truck blocks Woodland Drive on July 18 morning as a result of an ammonia leak in the old Don Stewart Recreation Centre, currently being town down to make way for a new centre.

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
A fire truck blocks Woodland Drive on July 18 morning as a result of an ammonia leak in the old Don Stewart Recreation Centre, currently being town down to make way for a new centre.

A section of the downtown core was cordoned off and evacuated the morning of July 18 due to an ammonia leak in the old recreation centre, currently being town down to make way for a new one.

The ammonia was being allowed to dissipate into the air.

“We can’t do anything with it,” said Fire Chief Ross Potter. “There’s no way to plug it off or anything else.”

Potter predicted that by suppertime that day, all the ammonia should have been gone.

Fire trucks and workers with stop signs were blocking off a section of Woodland Drive and diverting motorists around the evacuation area.

There were no injuries as a result of the leak.

Potter said an ammonia pipe had been broken in the demolition work.

“What happened is they’re doing the dismantling of the arena right now and when they were trying to remove some of the cladding they decided to cut an ammonia line,” he said. “They probably didn’t understand that it was an ammonia line at the time, and therefore we ended up with an ammonia leak.”

Ammonia is used in the freezing system for arena ice.

The area was cordoned off to a minimum of 300 feet from the ammonia leak, which occurred inside the old rec centre.

“About 300 feet away you’re OK, because it’s dissipated in the air,” said Potter.

The fire chief said the old rec centre was evacuated, along with the swimming pool, Godwin Mall, Driftwood Diner, The Source and NorthMart.

Jane Groenewegen, an owner of Driftwood Diner, said a worker from the demolition site came in at about 10:15 a.m. on July 18 and said the restaurant – right across Woodland Drive from the old rec centre – had to be evacuated right away.

“We advised our customers and our cook and we just evacuated the premises,” she said.

Noting the Driftwood Diner has a lot of air intakes, Groenewegen added, “It didn’t take very many seconds after he told us we needed to leave that our customers and ourselves noticed a smell. It was strong.”

Once outside, she said the smell didn’t seem so strong.

Groenewegen, a former Hay River South MLA and current president of the Hay River Chamber of Commerce, complimented the fire department for its quick response.

“They were out there immediately taking charge of the situation,” she said.

Potter said ammonia can cause respiratory problems and even be fatal in high concentrations.

–Paul Bickford