Two men described by police as missing following a massive explosion and fire at a home in Ontario were identified Wednesday while investigators continued to clean the area.
The explosion and resulting fire at a home in the 400 block of West Francis Street left two people dead and led to evacuations in the surrounding neighborhood that remained in place Wednesday night. Ontario Mayor Paul S. Leon described the evacuations as an “extremely necessary” measure to ensure residents are safe while authorities continue clearing the area of hazardous materials.
Throughout the day, investigators came across dozens of cases of unexploded fireworks among the piles of debris, Ontario Fire Department Chief Ray Gayk said.
“We have collected approximately 60 27-gallon boxes or cases of unexploded fireworks at this point,” Gayk said.
The fire department’s bomb technicians were working with the Environmental Protection Agency to dispose of unexploded fireworks at the scene of the explosion, Gayk said, getting rid of them through controlled burns in special canisters. He said that’s the safest way to dispose of them.
Dan Bell, an Ontario Fire Department spokesperson, said those efforts were set to begin at 6:30 p.m. Sky5 was flying over the explosion site at that time and captured some flames and smoke rising from a number of containers.
Earlier, during a morning news conference, Ontario Police Department Chief Mike Lorenz identified two men associated with the property who are listed as missing: 38-year-old Alex Paez and 20-year-old Cesar Paez. While he did not officially confirm them as the two people killed, a GoFundMe page created by a family member describes the pair as cousins who died in the massive blaze.
Cesar Paez was a graduate of Ontario High School, officials said. Meanwhile, Alex Paez is described in the online fundraiser as a husband and father to three young children including a newborn baby.
The fundraiser states Cesar’s family has been left with a “deep pain and sense of emptiness.”
“These two young, driven souls had their lives tragically taken due to an explosion in Ontario, CA,” the page states. “Along with this, their homes are now in ruins leaving their families with a heavy weight on their shoulders not knowing what is next.”
Three other people were injured in the blast, which occurred just after 12:30 p.m. on the roughly one-acre property near the intersection of West Francis Street and South Fern Avenue.
The explosion was fueled by commercial-grade fireworks that were heard and felt for miles. Fireworks of any kind are illegal in the city of Ontario.
The powerful explosion sent a debris field across about 80 properties, Gayk said.
A firearm that was “probably part of the explosion” has also been located, Gayk said.
Earlier in the day, Gayk said authorities weren’t able to begin investigating due to the amount of debris and unused explosives still needing to be cleared out.
He said the first priority was to clean the area of any unexploded ordnance but that could take a few days. After that, the investigation will take place and then residents will be allowed to return to their homes, Gayk said.
Twenty four bomb technicians from three counties have been called in to assist in the process, he said.
The Fire Department on Tuesday issued an evacuation order for the 300 and 400 blocks of West Francis Street and for West Maple Street between Fern and South San Antonio avenues.
Closures of the following streets — Francis, Locust and Maple between Fern and San Antonio —were also announced.
A temporary reception facility was set up at the De Anza Community Center located at 1405 S. Fern St. The Red Cross was helping more than 50 displaced residents with hotel vouchers in the evening.