Several businesses remain closed after an explosion and fire ripped through the kitchen of La Bocca on the Village Stroll Monday afternoon.
WorkSafeBC is investigating whether or not there is asbestos in the 29-year-old building before allowing firefighters to continue their investigation into the incident, which injured three people and resulted in the evacuation of the area for several hours.
“It is a precautionary action on (WorkSafeBC’s) part before we get in there and start to tear things apart a little bit for fire investigation purposes,” said Whistler Fire Chief Rob Whitton.
Gas service to the building, which has no fire sprinkler system, has been shut off, as has electricity.
“The risk for further explosion has been reduced to a level I am comfortable with,” said Whitton.
While the businesses in the building — La Bocca, La Brasserie, Amsterdam Café, Hot Buns and Maxx Fish — are closed, the residences above are being used.
When emergency services arrived on the scene they found several people out the back, on Sunrise Crescent.
“There were a number of people holding their heads and staggering around,” said Whitton.
“Crews made entry right away and found there were more staff still inside holding their ears and staggering around, so we got them out. One we had to bring out on a spine-board. He was on the ground and in a bad way.”
At one point emergency crews thought they would have to send one of the injured to Vancouver but in the end all three of the injured were treated at the Whistler Health Care Centre and released.
“The people that were in that kitchen were very, very fortunate to escape with only minor injuries,” said Whitton. “It could have been catastrophic in nature.”
Whitton believes the concussion of the explosion likely extinguished the fire by vacating the oxygen.
“Definitely there was significant damage in the area of origin and to the equipment and ceiling area, and the concussion blast also knocks off stuff from the shelves.
“In my 21-year career I have never had an explosion in a commercial kitchen.”
When the explosion happened customers in the restaurant rushed out.
“You could hear the explosion,” said a worker at nearby Citta’s Bistro who wanted to remain anonymous.
“It wasn’t massive, but you felt the floor vibrate a little. Then we heard a big kind of boom and we said, ‘what was that?’”
Aki Kaltenbach, the business manager of damaged restaurant La Bocca, confirmed all three of those injured were recovering.
“They were staff and they are all fine now,” she said.
“No-one was seriously injured, they were more shocked than anything.”
The RCMP does not suspect foul play.
“It is not believed suspicious in nature,” said Staff Sgt. Steven LeClair.