Light was just beginning to flood the northern British Columbia sky when Lance Delaronde was roused from his bed at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday. He opened his door to find a panicked neighbour who had been jolted awake by a loud explosion and was warning others to evacuate.
Still half-asleep, Mr. Delaronde heard enough about the blast two kilometres from his house - a cloud of dust, a hissing sound - to get his wife and two children dressed and ready to leave.
In the nearby woods, about eight kilometres south of Dawson Creek, natural gas was still leaking from a separate blast that occurred only three days before, on July 1. That was the fifth in a string of bombings that have targeted pipelines and other gas facilities operated by energy company EnCana Corp.
Saturday's explosion took place just 500 metres from where workers were attempting to repair the earlier blast, and marked the sixth time an EnCana facility has been struck - this time a pipeline carrying toxic sour gas, RCMP later confirmed. All of the attacks have taken place within a short distance of each other, all of them around major holidays. RCMP sent nearly 20 people to scour the latest blast site for evidence that could point to whoever is responsible for an act they described for the first time with an alarming word: terrorism.
"It fits the bill in the sense that we've got civil and critical infrastructure that's being attacked," said RCMP Corporal Dan Moskaluk. "The dynamics have changed and certainly EnCana family and workers, and the community large, are being terrorized by this."
But in a part of Canada that prides itself on a sangfroid attitude to things it can't control, people have resolved not to be perturbed by a string of bombings that would likely have unnerved other communities.
Take Mr. Delaronde, for example. While some of his neighbours hit the road - one drove a camper to the local Wal-Mart parking lot - he fell back asleep.
Even those who left home returned quickly. Sixty-year-old Marita Svensson spent a few hours parked at Wal-Mart before driving back to her family's ranch, where she and her husband run 40 head of cattle.
"You can't live in fear and be scared," she said.
In part, the refusal to be cowed comes from the fact that the blasts, while they have endangered nearby houses and cattle, have not hurt anyone. A small amount of sour gas - which is toxic enough to cause death - leaked from the Saturday pipeline blast before automatic shut-off systems stanched the flow, but no one was injured. EnCana spokeswoman Rhona DelFrari said the company's crews succeeded Sunday morning in stopping gas leaking from the July 1 blast, which damaged a natural gas well.
Still, the explosions have dominated conversation in Pouce Coupe, the town of 900 nearest the recent blasts. Locals have speculated that the bomber could be a disgruntled landowner, an extremist activist looking to draw attention to the dangers of sour gas development, or perhaps even one of an unknown number of forest hermits who live off-grid in the region.
Those so-called "bush bunnies" look like "a character you'd see in a 1940s western movie, the Gabby Hayes type," said Pouce Coupe Mayor Lyman Clark. "And there is a rumour among a lot of people that it's one of those type of individuals."
Police have offered few details on who they believe is responsible. A letter sent to a Dawson Creek newsletter last October continues to provide one of the scant pieces as to the possible motivation behind the attacks. In the letter, addressed to "EnCana and all other oil and gas interests," the author calls the energy industry "terrorists" and accuses it of "endangering our families with crazy expansion of deadly gas wells in our home lands."
RCMP have set up a website to solicit tips, while EnCana has boosted its own security, offered a $500,000 reward for information and set up a special phone line for the bomber to call them. So far it hasn't rung, and the size and remoteness of the Dawson Creek wilderness area has made it difficult for policy and security forces to monitor the extensive petroleum infrastructure installed in the region.
Andrew Nikiforuk, a Calgary journalist who has written extensively about Alberta natural gas saboteur Wiebo Ludwig, travelled to Pouce Coup in early June, and said police appear to be flustered.
"I heard story after story of people who felt they had been really outrageously treated by the RCMP … Stories about people being tailed, cops coming into people's yards and just watching them all evening - a lot of stories about open harassment," he said. "That's a sure sign the police are incredibly frustrated and don't know where to turn."
Cpl. Moskaluk said RCMP have employed a team of "very-qualified investigators" who "have the capacity to sustain a long, long dedication to the investigation and the tasks that emerge from it."
With a report from the Canadian Press