Four people died early Saturday and two others were in critical condition following a house fire in Winnipeg.

288 Austin Street, Winnipeg288 Austin Street, Winnipeg

Firefighters were called to a 2½-storey home at 288 Austin St. N. just before 2 a.m. CT after neighbours and passing drivers noticed the blaze.

Six adults were rushed to hospital in critical condition, including one who had received CPR at the scene. Four of the victims were later pronounced dead.

"Three males and one female have succumbed to injuries sustained and two males remain in critical condition," police announced Saturday afternoon.

"The cause of the fire is considered suspicious in nature," they added, but no arrests had been made.

Damage is estimated at $100,000.

A woman named Nicole, who declined to provide her last name, told CBC News that she spotted the fire as she drove by and called 911.

"I felt the heat from the house," she said. While she waited for firefighters to arrive, she said, she saw people running around in front of the building and screaming.

"It was … it was really hard to watch," she said. "I'm just really sad that people were hurt last night, and that's it."

Worry for friend

Todd Calback, a friend of one of the people in the house, said he was shocked by what he saw when he went to the home later Saturday morning.

"He lived in the top suite up there," Calback said of his friend. "That was his place, that was his house."

He said his friend lived in a room with his cat.

Calback did not know that four people in the home didn't survive, and when he found out he broke down. He tried calling the hospital to see if his friend was OK, but was told that only family could get that information.

"He was definitely home," Calback said, hoping for the best. "And he was definitely sleeping."

Later on Saturday, Calback contacted CBC News and said he had learned his friend had died.

13 rooms in the house

Neighbours told CBC News that the rooming house is often home to people struggling with addictions.

"This house has always been a house that's associated with activity of late-night partying, drugs and so on," Chris D'Souza said.

Reid Douglas, Winnipeg's deputy fire chief, said the house had been the subject of a fire safety investigation in the past month, but the problem had been corrected.

"I was actually quite surprised to hear multiple casualties [there]," Douglas said, "because our fire prevention branch has been doing such a fantastic job in rooming houses."

Officials examining the charred façade said the fire likely started near the front entrance, possibly on the veranda, blocking an obvious escape route. The front of the structure was ablaze when firefighters arrived.

Officials said the house had 13 rooms and that they believed people were also using basement space for sleeping.

The names of the victims have not been released.

The city's arson strike force and police homicide unit are investigating the fire, as well as a fire in the 500 block of Selkirk Street that broke out just before 3 a.m. No one was hurt in that fire.

Police said there's no indication either fire is related to the current biker gang turf war in Winnipeg.

Corrections

  • The house fire occurred at 288 Austin St., not 291 Austin as previously reported.
    Jul 16, 2011 8:45 AM CT
With files from the Canadian Press