Nightclub owners sue City of Prince George over explosion, claiming gas leak was reported day prior

A pile of rubble and debris pictured on Aug. 23, 2023, at the site of an explosion in downtown Prince George, B.C. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC - image credit)
A pile of rubble and debris pictured on Aug. 23, 2023, at the site of an explosion in downtown Prince George, B.C. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC - image credit)

The owner of a nightclub in Prince George, B.C., says the city failed to act when the smell of natural gas was reported the day prior to an explosion that caused severe damage to several downtown buildings and sent one person to hospital.

The allegation is made in a notice of civil claim dated Jan. 17 filed by Encore Promotions, which runs the Heartbreakers night club in Prince George. Heartbreakers is next door to the site of the explosion, a former restaurant.

The lawsuit says on the morning of Aug. 21, a city employee reported the smell of natural gas to a city bylaw officer who was told they "would take care of that problem."

The following day, it says, the same employee once again smelled natural gas and, while reporting it, was severely injured by the explosion.

"It was reasonably foreseeable," the lawsuit says, "that an extremely dangerous situation had arisen," and that neither the city nor the bylaw officer took "reasonable steps to deal with the extreme danger of a natural gas explosion."

Both the City of Prince George and the unidentified bylaw officer are named as defendants. Neither has filed a response in court.

Damage to businesses

It is not clear from the lawsuit how the nightclub owners came to be aware of reports of the smell of natural gas a day prior to the explosion.

According to RCMP, the building where the explosion happened had been inspected and locked up by its owners on the evening of Aug. 21 with no problems reported, but  it was "broken into over the course of the night by multiple unauthorized people."

"Fire investigators have further determined there is evidence of copper pipe theft, which resulted in damage to at least one natural gas line," Cpl. Jennifer Cooper said in a release about the investigation issued in September.

The city parks employee who was injured in the explosion suffered a severe concussion, a fractured skull, severe burns and other injuries affecting her ability to walk and use her hands.

The explosion was felt as far as five kilometres away from the former restaurant.

Windows were broken at several downtown businesses and the city approved a one-time relief fund to help recover the costs.

But Encore Promotions says in their lawsuit that neither those relief funds nor insurance is enough to cover the losses they have suffered as a result of the blast.

It says there has been damage to machinery, HVAC systems and there has been "the intrusion of toxic and other materials" blown into the interior of the club.

It has been unable to reopen, the lawsuit says, causing "a loss of profits and other specified damages."

It is asking that a judge award the nightclub costs and interest for its losses.