PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. — Heather Ziebart was working on her product for the day at her donut shop in downtown Prince George, B.C., when a "large kaboom" shook the building.
Ziebart, the owner of Daydream Donuts, said her and a few other employees were not quite "knocked off their feet" by the blast two buildings down from her shop, which has been open for about two years.
"We ran out of the building to see what was happening," she said. "We thought at first something might have hit our building."
Ziebart said one of the people injured was a city worker, who she saw being helped away from the scene by a homeless person.
The injured worker was in a "fair amount of pain," Ziebart said, and had some scrapes but not any burns.
She said the area has had issues for sometime with unhoused people starting fires near buildings, and the site of the blast was a restaurant that had closed down sometime ago.
"There were squatters in that building. It had become somewhat derelict," she said. "It's been broken into quite a few times and windows broken out and you could see them basically walking away from it."
Prince George RCMP said Tuesday morning that they're now investigating the cause of the explosion, which happened at an abandoned building that used to house a Greek restaurant.
Ziebart said the area has been dealing with crime-related issues for sometime, with Prince George's downtown core experiencing similar troubles as many other cities in Canada.
"All of the small businesses, even some of the big businesses and the office buildings, it's very challenging because there's thefts and there's damage," she said. "In the winter time, the cold weather, there's fires all the time because they make their fires on the sidewalks or in the doorways and they're not terribly careful."
Deborah Dissler's craft and collectible store, A Butler's Market, is just down the street, on the opposite side, from where the blast occurred. She got a call early Tuesday morning about a broken glass sensor going off.
"I decided to go look myself," Dissler said. "I couldn't get near the building because they had the area blocked off."
The blast happened around 7 a.m., and power to the area was shut down, and video footage of the aftermath posted online shows thick black smoke pluming into the air as firefighters doused the flames.
Randy Wilson's antique and collectible shop Other People's Treasures is two doors down from Dissler's store.
Wilson said his business' alarm system went off Tuesday morning and when he checked the security camera footage, all he saw was smoke.
"I don't think it was an accidental situation that happened," Wilson said. "It's crazy downtown. Maybe this is an eye opener"
He said police didn't allow him in his building, but he was able to go check on things from a back entrance, and some things had been knocked off shelves, but otherwise no damage had occurred.
Wilson said his store has a lot of different items including sports memorabilia such as old hockey cards and other keepsakes and rarities.
A break-in a few years ago, Wilson said, drained the shop of about $60,000 worth of goods.
"I'm frustrated with the whole thing, the whole downtown core," he said. "it's getting worse every year."
Wilson said other buildings in the city's downtown area have burnt down in recent years, and said it's been frustrating as the city's issue with homelessness has only grown.
"I've come downtown sometimes 11 at night when they're burning stuff in the back alley behind my store. My building is wood," he said. "I got some decisions to make."
Police spokeswoman Cpl. Jennifer Cooper said one of the people sent to hospital has serious injuries, and B.C. Emergency Health Services said it took two patients to hospital, while a third was taken by a different party.
Fortis and BC Hydro were at the scene Tuesday to try to help firefighters contain the blaze and aid in the investigation.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 22, 2023.
The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misspelled Heather Ziebart's last name.