Author Topic: ‘Horrible Tragedy’: 32 Presumed Dead in Quebec Retirement Home Fire, 10 Confirmed  (Read 333 times)

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Offline happyg

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Dave Urbanski
L’ISLE-VERTE, Quebec (AP) — Crews on Saturday recovered two more bodies as they struggled with frigid temperatures and ice as thick as two feet to search the ruins of a burned-out Quebec retirement home. Ten bodies of the 32 presumed dead have been recovered.

32 Presumed Dead in Quebec Retirement Home Fire, 10 Confirmed
A firefighter walks past the rubble where fire destroyed a a seniors residence in L’Isle-Verte, Quebec, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. (Image source: AP/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

A massive blaze swept through the three-story building in L’Isle-Verte, about 140 miles northeast of Quebec City early Thursday. Quebec Provincial Police lowered the number of missing from about 30 to 22 based on more detailed information.

The coroner’s office identified two victims on Saturday, Juliette Saindon, 95, and Marie-Laureat Dube, 82. A third person has been identified but his or her name will not be released until Sunday.

The cause of the blaze that burned down the Residence du Havre was under investigation, and police asked the public for any videos or photos that might yield clues. Quebec Police Lt. Guy Lapointe declined to confirm media reports that the fire began in the room of a resident who was smoking a cigarette, describing it “is one hypothesis among many.”

32 Presumed Dead in Quebec Retirement Home Fire, 10 Confirmed
Rescue personnel search through the icy rubble of a fire that destroyed a seniors’ residence Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, in L’Isle-Verte, Quebec. (Image source: AP/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

“When you conduct an investigation of this magnitude, you have to determine all the facts and not simply just one or two in order to achieve a conclusion,” he said.

Frigid temperatures continued to hamper the search, with Lapointe saying the ice in certain places was as thick as two feet.
Search teams brought in equipment normally used to de-ice ships that pushes out very hot air.

“You can imagine how difficult it is to go through the ice, melt it, and do it in a way that we preserve the integrity of potential victims,” he said. “So it’s very difficult work again today. It’s very cold.”

Officials said they would end the day’s search at 7 p.m. Saturday due to the difficult conditions and resume Sunday morning.

On Friday, teams of police, firefighters and coroners slowly and methodically picked their way through the ruins, working in shifts in the extreme cold with temperatures hovering around minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

32 Presumed Dead in Quebec Retirement Home Fire, 10 Confirmed
Smoke rises from the burnt remains of a retirement home in L’Isle-Verte on January 23, 2014. Firefighters searched the ashes of a Quebec retirement home that burned to the ground on a bleak midwinter night, leaving more than 30 residents feared dead. (Image source: Getty Images/AFP/Remi Senechal)

As crews used steam to melt thick sheets of ice coating the rubble, Marc-Henri Saindon waited for his mother’s body to be recovered. Marie-Jeanne Gagnon, five months shy of her 100th birthday, had moved to the home on New Year’s Eve, her son said.

“She really liked it there. She was well treated and she had friends there,” Saindon said.

Spray from firefighters’ hoses left the home resembling a macabre snow palace, the ruins encased in thick white ice dripping with icicles. Workers took a break over night because of the freezing cold.

The tragedy cast such a pall over the village of 1,500 that psychologists were sent door to door.

“This is a horrible tragedy,” Mayor Ursule Theriault said.

Elderly survivors were moved to other residences for the elderly in the area, and the Red Cross had raised about funds (equaling about $180,000, U.S.) to provide clothes, hearing aids, wheelchairs, and other urgent needs.

“Because they left their residence so quickly, they left with nothing,” said Myrian Marotte, a Red Cross spokeswoman. “We’re looking at providing them with those very urgent articles.”

Witnesses told horrific tales of people trapped and killed by the flames. Many of the 50 or so residents were over 85 and used wheelchairs or walkers. Some had Alzheimer’s.

Pascal Fillion, who lives nearby, said he saw someone use a ladder to try to rescue a man cornered on his third-floor balcony. The man was crying out for help before he fell to the ground, engulfed in flames, Fillion said.

“I lost my friends,” said Nicole Belanger, who worked at the home part-time for the past four years. “The residents loved us and we loved them.”

Quebec Minister of Social Services Veronique Hivon said many of the village’s volunteer firefighters had relatives at the retirement home.

“People are in a state of shock,” she said. “We want them to know the services are there by going door to door. It’s an important building that’s a part of their community that just disappeared.”

32 Presumed Dead in Quebec Retirement Home Fire, 10 Confirmed
Canadian firefighters inspect the burnt remains of a retirement home in L’Isle-Verte on January 23, 2014. (Image source: Getty Images/AFP/Remi Senechal)

Hivon said the home was up to code and had a proper evacuation plan. A Quebec Health Department document indicates the home which has operated since 1997, had only a partial sprinkler system. The home expanded around 2002, and the sprinklers in the new part of the building triggered the alarm.

The owners of the residence made a public statement Friday for the first time since the fire, offering their condolences to victims’ families.

Roch Bernier and Irene Plante thanked firefighters, volunteers and the residence’s employees and said they are cooperating fully with authorities.

Father Gilles Frigon, the town’s Catholic priest, said he would hold a private Mass so residents could gather and share their grief. He has invited family members to bring photos of their loved ones.

“It will be family-oriented and intimate, so that in this tragic event we’re going through, we can find ourselves and rebuild our hearts,” Frigon said.

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Offline mountaineer

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How very sad!  **nononono*
A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.

Offline Chieftain

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yah...I've been following this for a day or so.  Grim story, there are witnesses who watched people burn to death because the fire was too hot to quick to rescue them and now they are encased in ice.  Most of the residents were completely incapable of saving themselves.

Prayers for the dead and Pity for the firemen and other public employees who will work to recover the bodies and clean this horror up.

Offline happyg

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Belanger told QMI Agency he was "95% sure" the fire was smoking-related.

Less than an hour before the fire alarm went off, Belanger said he prevented a resident from going outside to smoke a cigarette.

He said residents are not allowed out after 11 p.m. because the doors are locked.

The orderly said he went to check on the man in his room a few minutes later just to make sure before going to the kitchen to prepare the next day's breakfast.

After the alarm went off, Belanger went up to the second floor and noticed that the fire was centred around the elderly smoker's room.

"There was smoke above the door, which was still ajar," Belanger said. "Then I began to suffocate. It was black. I thought I would die there."

Within five minutes, the fire had already spread throughout the building.

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Offline alicewonders

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Horrible.  This story hits me hard tonight.  Last night, one of my best friends called me and was in quite a state of hysteria.  His house had just burnt to the ground - luckily he and his family got out - but they lost everything.  He said even his billfold burned up in the house.  It started with a chimney fire, and because he lived in a rural location - four firetrucks and an ambulance were hampered trying to get to his house.  Extreme cold and an icy country road, plus a frozen fire hydrant....he says there is nothing left.

This time of year is so dangerous with the cold and people trying to keep their houses warm.  A few years ago in this same kind of weather, we stood in the snow and helplessly watched our neighbor's house burn to the ground while a firetruck was hampered by our small deadend road and not enough water to put it out.  That fire started in the chimney too. 

My mother is in a nursing home and I am crying, thinking about those poor people - so helpless.  It makes me sick to my stomach. 
Don't tread on me.   8888madkitty

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Offline mountaineer

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Quebec family grieves amid suspicion in L’Isle-Verte 
Published Saturday, Jan. 25 2014, 6:21 PM EST

A family mourning the loss of the 96-year-old family patriarch in the L’Isle-Verte fire is now dealing with a devastating pall of rumour and suspicion spreading through town that his cigarette may have ignited the inferno.

Reports pinpointing the origin of the fire to room 206 in the Résidence du Havre where 32 people are believed to have perished in the early hours Thursday have left the family of Paul-Étienne Michaud facing questions from villagers, media and Sûreté du Québec investigators about his smoking habits.

Investigators were seeking and interviewing Michaud family members on the weekend but insisted the smoking theory is but one possible avenue they are exploring among the swirl of rumours and information enveloping the town. They cautioned against hasty conclusions. An electrical room also circulated as a possible source in early reporting on the fire.

If the source of ignition was as banal as smoking, the case will provoke even more troubling questions about building codes, the absence of sprinklers and the use of wood building materials that allowed the fire to engulf an entire wing of the residence in minutes.

Mr. Michaud, a 96-year-old inveterate smoker, is believed to have died in the fire. His son, Jean-André Michaud said Saturday he believes his father has been misidentified as the smoker who tried to sneak out in the late night for a cigarette, and was sent back to his room just before the fire broke out.

“It’s going to be a terrible burden if it turns out he started the fire, but I don’t believe it,” said Jean-André Michaud in a tearful interview at his farm on the edge of L’Isle-Verte. “I just don’t believe it. He was not that big a smoker to get up in the middle of the night to light up.”

Bruno Bélanger, the night supervisor in the home, told Quebecor news outlets Friday that he chased a smoker back to room 206 after he tried to go out into the night. He said he was 95 per cent sure the man and room 206 were the source of the fire.

The name of Mr. Michaud, who kept a minivan as a makeshift smoking lounge in the parking lot of the residence, immediately spread around town, and triggered police inquiries with the Michaud family.

Some in his family insist he was living in room 208, not room 206 identified by Mr. Bélanger. They also say his tobacco addiction was not bad enough to drive him into the cold night, or to smoke inside. ...

More at The Globe and Mail
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