Thunder Bay homeowner 'terrified' in close call with dynamite buried in backyard
Police, firefighters dispatched after decades-old, inactive dynamite sticks found during fence build
What should have been a routine home improvement project led to a very memorable day for Thunder Bay, Ont., resident Julie Colquhoun and her family.
The Marlborough Street resident was having a fence installed in the back of the house — the family recently got a golden retriever puppy — when a member of the work crew found something unexpected while drilling a hole for a fence post: sticks of dynamite.
"He was hand digging it and stopped when he saw it," Colquhoun told CBC News on Thursday. "When they looked further into it, they thought that they had seen a burlap sack that was full of it."
No detonators or caps were found and there were no injuries.
The work crew's supervisor came to Colquhoun's door to tell her what was happening. Officers with Thunder Bay police and Ontario Provincial Police, as well as firefighters and paramedics, were dispatched.
In a media release Wednesday, city police said the call came in at about 9:45 a.m.ET and the area was initially cordoned off. It was reopened that afternoon.
I was terrified thinking of my kids. We've been here since 2006 and my kids grew up running over that area, and what could have happened.- Julie Colquhoun, Thunder Bay, Ont., resident
"We didn't end up having to evacuate," Colquhoun said. "I think they told all of the people on our block what was going on and to stay out of the backyards.
"Fairly quickly, they saw how old it was, and had assessed it, that whatever the explosive agent in the dynamite was had sort of seeped out over the years," she said. "So the risk was quite low."
But prior to that, when Colquhoun first heard about the discovery, she went through a "mix of emotions."
"My immediate reaction was, 'What's the danger, what's the risk right now?' I was terrified thinking of my kids. We've been here since 2006 and my kids grew up running over that area, and what could have happened.
"You go to worst-case scenario sort of things when you're thinking about it."
Colquhoun also said the spot where the dynamite was found was previously the site of a garage, which had a concrete pad. The garage was removed about eight years ago, but no dynamite was discovered then.
Colquhoun praised the first responders, however, noting the constant communication and speed of the response.
A backhoe was brought in and a large area along the property line was dug up. In total, two buckets full of dynamite sticks were recovered and removed.
"The city took away all of the soil that they had taken out because it was contaminated," she said. "They were pouring diesel at each layer, because I guess that counteracts the explosive properties that may have been in the dynamite had it been active.
"The city took all of that contaminated soil away and brought back in new soil and gravel to fill the holes."
As to how the dynamite ended up there in the first place, Colquhoun has heard a few possibilities.
One story goes that a box of dynamite fell off a truck in the 1960s, and not all of it was recovered. Another possibility is neighbourhood kids — somehow getting a hold of the dynamite back then — buried it and forgot about it.
Colquhoun also said her house was built in the late 1950s or early '60s, so there's some question as to whether the dynamite was somehow buried during the construction.
In any case, the dynamite has been removed, but the incident caused a delay in the fence construction.
"I just wanted a fence and out of that comes this experience," Colquhoun said. "I'm so grateful that it was inactive, or not explosive, and that the fence fellow was safe and nothing happened, and nobody got hurt.
"That's the biggest thing."