One of the 20 residents known to have escaped the fire that raged through a seniors' home on Thursday in L'Isle-Verte, Que., has told CBC’s Radio-Canada he's lucky to be alive.
Arnaud Côté, 85, a retired dairy farmer native to the region, lived at the fire-ravaged Résidence du Havre.
On Thursday morning a fire alarm was tripped and residents attempted to flee the building. Twenty were successful, but eight have been confirmed dead, and an estimated 30 others remain missing.
“I yelled for help and ran down to the fire exit as soon as I heard the fire alarm," Côté told Radio Canada. "I tried to get far away. There was lots of smoke.”
'I tried to get far away. There was lots of smoke.' - Arnaud Côté, Residence du Havre resident
His apartment was located on the second floor in the newly renovated wing of the home where sprinkler systems had been installed. However, Côté said, they weren’t working.
“The sprinklers weren’t activated," he said. I don’t know why.”
Despite his haste to flee the building, Côté thought of his neighbours.
“I woke up my neighbours and got them out of their rooms," he said. "I helped two ladies out of the building.”
He told the CBC that he helped three in all, including the two women aged between 85 and 90.
With the ladies in tow, he followed emergency instructions that had been given to him during fire drills by the residence’s co-owner Roch Bernier.
“Mr. Roch told me where to go," Côté said. "I descended from the second floor and about half of all the firefighters were in front of me and they helped us out.
“I wasn’t hurt at all. I was rescued pretty easily.”
According to the firefighters, Côté’s apartment didn’t sustain much fire damage, but has been ravaged by smoke and water.
Protective barriers have been erected around the ice-covered rubble for safety, and officials have prevented any residents from poking through the rubble.
“They won’t let me anywhere near,” Côté said.
Côté and other rescued residents were sheltered for the evening by friends and neighbours. The Red Cross has been working for a longer term solution and has moved some residents to temporary shelters including a school and a small nearby hotel.
Côté said that he is still reeling from the incident, and suspected he might still be in shock.
“It’s the worst. We were all friends,” he said. “What can anyone say? There were so many of them.”
The Red Cross is doing what they can to supply the survivors with shelter, food and medicine, but Côté's future is uncertain.
“What will happen with me? Well you can wish me good luck,” Côté said.