Two women and one man are dead while another man continues to fight for his life in a Winnipeg hospital following a fire in a rooming house in the Centennial area.
Emergency crews were called to a home in the 300 block of Alexander Avenue at about 2:30 a.m. Sunday after reports of a fire.
"There [were] 10 individuals that the firefighters helped to get out immediately, and they were told there were other victims still inside," said Alex Forrest, president of United Firefighters of Winnipeg. "They knew this was going to be a bad fire."
Five crews entered the house to find the victims. All four at home at the time of the fire were located, including one person who was found at the back entrance to the home. The two women who died were 20 and 21 years old respectively, police said.
Forrest said more than 14 people live in the home. Two pets were also found by firefighters, he added.
"When you're in a fire, especially at night … it's very easy to get disorientated, especially with the toxic nature of smoke," Forrest said.
"There [were] three of them that they believed that were deceased. They managed to resuscitate one of the individuals."
That person and one other were transported to hospital in "very critical" condition, Forrest said.
He said the other people living in the house suffered smoke inhalation but "nothing major."
'There was a lot of smoke'
Leo Jacob lives in the rooming house and was at home at the time of the fire. His brother Melvin Jacob, 49, was taken off life support Sunday at about 6:30 p.m. The other man in hospital, Darcy Thomas, is a cousin of the Jacobs.
Jacob said it was clear the second he woke up that something was wrong.
"I noticed there was a lot of smoke," he said. "I went around to the back, kicked open the back door and the flames shot back at me and I kind of jumped back a bit."
Jacob's young daughter, and his brother's son, were upstairs at the time of the fire.
"He tossed her from the roof to my arms and I caught her," Jacob said. "As he tossed her, she was holding onto him and he fell down from the roof but he was OK."
Jacob said he tried to rush back inside, but the smoke was too thick and the fire was out of control.
"I wish I could have been there to save my brother," he said. "A lot of things went wrong last night, Lost my dog; two girls passed away.
"I keep blaming myself and I got all my family here and I just wish this didn't happen.... I wish I could have saved them all."
'End of a horrible week'
One firefighter suffered smoke inhalation and another severely hurt his arm, Forrest added
"This is just one of those weekends that is the end of a horrible week for firefighting in Winnipeg," he said.
On Friday, the same crews responded to a fatal fire on McDermot Avenue, which, Forrest said, was caused by a cigarette.
"This is a tough area to fight fires," he said, adding that there are a lot of rooming houses and houses that have been turned into multi-family dwellings.
Cyril Bruce lived at the rooming house with his family of five. He said they escaped through the back door when they saw smoke and heard alarms sounding.
"There was like, two teens that were staying there," he said. "They got trapped on the second floor and they had to jump down from the back porch."
Bruce, who has no insurance, said most of his belongings, including his grandson's toys, were left behind.
He was not close with the people who died in the fire, he said.
"Two didn't make it … from time to time I would talk to them but I didn't know them that well," he said. "My son was crying this morning…. It's pretty scary. It's never happened to us before."
A 'quiet fire'
At about 2:30 a.m., Kyle Robson said he saw ambulances and fire trucks in front of the rooming house next door.
"We saw about four firemen drag someone out and try to resuscitate them. They put them on the stretcher … " Robson said.
"We went and burned sweet grass right away, just hoping that they're okay. We're just hoping that the families are okay … praying for the people in hospital as well," he said.
Although the fire took three lives, Robson said it was quiet and not everyone in the area even knew it happened come Sunday morning.
"I've never seen a fire that was so silent and nobody knew about it at all," he said. "There's hundreds of residents around here and not one could have predicted that fire."
Forrest said he is not aware of any footage of the fire taken by neighbourhood residents either.
'We're very sorry'
Firefighters in Winnipeg are offering their condolences to those in and around the rooming house, who were impacted by the damage.
"They're profoundly saddened by the deaths of these individuals," Forrest said.
"On behalf of all firefighters in Winnipeg, we're very sorry for everything that has occurred here.... Our prayers and condolences go out to the families, the friends and the community of the inner city of Winnipeg."
He said the most tragic fires always happen in January and February.
There is no information yet on what caused the fire, or the extent of its damage, but police say the arson unit is investigating.
A GoFundMe campaign has been created to help cover funeral costs and raise money for the survivors.