How the Woodman Ave explosion tested the resiliency of Londoners as anniversary nears
LONDON, ONT -- For those impacted by the explosion on Woodman Avenue, this has been a year of reflection and recovery.
On the night of August 14, 2019 a car struck a gas meter in front of 450 Woodman Ave., triggering an explosion that would destroy four homes and injure several firefighters and police officers.
The resiliency shown by Londoners in the hours and days that followed remains strong almost one year later.
“The past 11 months have not been easy,” admits Laura Earle. She and her partner lost everything when their home at 448 Woodman Ave. was destroyed. But now she and her next door neighbour are each preparing to rebuild.
“Hoping to start in the fall. I have no idea how long it will take. Originally, we were hoping to start sooner than that,” she explains.
Her neighbour Michelle Lupa still finds pieces of brick in her garden. She’s reminded of the explosion every day. “I look out every morning from my top bedroom window and there I see nothing but a hole, but I’m so thankful no one was killed,” she says.
While working at the scene, London Fire Department Public Information Coordinator Shannon Byron was reading the messages of support written by children in chalk along Woodman Avenue.
Byron still gets choked up talking about what happened next. “I heard someone say, ‘Are you okay dear?’ There was a woman on her porch,” recalls Byron.
“I felt the adrenaline dump, and I walked to her house and she hugged me. I will never ever forget that support.”
The street where several first responders were seriously injured instantly brings back memories of the explosion for firefighter Matt Davis. “You have thoughts every time you drive by the street, and the past year it’s not uncommon to think about that day,” says Davis.
But others still stay away. “I have not driven down Woodman Avenue. I was about to on the way to a meeting at city hall, and couldn’t do it,” admits Communications Operator Deanna Foisy, who received the Mayday call and dispatched help after the blast.
“I spoke to people about it, dealt with it, and moved on. There’s nothing really preventing me from going, it’s just I’m not ready to make that step yet.”
With time the memories of that night will fade, but a year later the resilience and strength of Londoners last summer remains vivid.
“The positive out of that was the community,” says Fire Prevention Investigator Chris Rennie. “We had yellow tape for blocks and there were community people clapping, cheering us on, and thanking us. You had devastation on one hand and on the other the thankfulness of the community."
Adds Bryron, “We have a truly caring community around us. There was an outpouring of support from Londoners, from residents who were affected. Residents who lost their homes were lifting us up.”
Daniella Alexandra Leis, 24, of Kitchener faces 12 charges related to the crash that caused the explosion. Her next court date is October 14.