The investigation is just beginning into the fire that ripped through a Brampton townhouse complex yesterday, claiming a boy’s life and leaving scores of people homeless.
Nicolas Gabriel, 10, a Grade 4 student, was the sole victim of the fire that broke out around 3:19 a.m. Sunday morning. He had been staying at a friend’s house for a sleepover.
"It’s unbelievable you can lose a loved one so quickly," said Marsha Nakonecznij, a friend of Nicolas’s mother.
Emergency crews arrived to find the two-storey building at Ardglen Drive completely engulfed by flames as the fire made its way across the roofline.
Officials say the fire started in the kitchen of the unit Nicolas was staying at and that the fire spread rapidly in both directions.
After the fire was out, Peel Regional Police Const. Lillian Fitzpatrick said it was the responding firefighters who confirmed the tragic news that a boy had died.
"When firefighters went through, they located the body of the child inside a unit," Fitzpatrick told reporters on Sunday morning, just a few hours after the fire had started.
Many questions to answer
A day later, officials say they are still gathering information about the deadly blaze.
Richard Derstroff of the Office of the Fire Marshal spoke to reporters on Monday afternoon, outlining the probe that also involves the police, the fire department and the coroner's office.
"We will perform a comprehensive fire investigation into the origin, cause and circumstances of this fire and evaluating the building performance and those factors that may have contributed to the fire spread," he said.
Derstroff said investigators are seeking information about the structure from the City of Brampton.
Earlier in the day, Gary Jarrett of Brampton Fire told reporters that investigators were seeking answers to many questions, including why the fire spread as it did.
"Why did the fire spread the way it did through this facility and affect all 18 townhomes here and displace the entire building?" Jarrett said.
That same question was being asked by local residents, like Kathy Atwell, who lives in a nearby townhouse complex.
"That fire just took off. Why?"
'I just want to wake up from the nightmare'
The tragic news about Nicolas began to spread even before it had been officially confirmed on Sunday.
Nicolas’s father Shane Gabriel posted a photo of himself and Nicolas on his Facebook page early in the morning, writing: "Please pray for us. Nicolas was in the apartment that caught fire and is now missing."
His status, only a few hours later, revealed they had lost Nicolas. "I just want to wake up from this nightmare," the message read.
At Sir Winston Churchill P.S., the young boy’s school, a letter was being sent home to tell parents and students about the news of Nicolas’s death.
"It's a really devastating day for the school and the community," school board spokesperson Brian Woodland told CBC News.
Woodland said that Nicolas "was extremely popular with students and staff," known for the kindness he showed to others.
"He was someone who gave of himself, who demonstrated empathy and caring all the time," said Woodland.
The fire destroyed left 18 units badly damaged or destroyed, according to police. Many of the near 100 people left homeless fled in the middle of the night with only the clothes on their backs.
Between 200 and 300 people were evacuated from the area. That number includes those who lived in adjacent units, along with those living in the units that burned.
Tressa Daley was one of the residents who fled just in time. Daley told CBC's Matt Galloway on Metro Morning Monday that her husband woke her up at about 3:30 a.m. and were told her they needed to leave immediately.
"I believe if we were sleeping for about five minutes more our families would have got the unfortunate call we have passed because the smoke entered so quickly," she said.
She said that luckily her children were away for the weekend but that they are all feeling grief for not only the loss of everything they owned, but also the tragic loss of a neighbourhood friend.
"As a mother I couldn’t imagine how [Nicolas’s] mother feels right now," she said.
"We are familiar with the little boy. My daughters played with him, just two weeks ago I was playing with them. The kids had their bikes outside."
Other residents were woken up by neighbours.
Leroy Francis lost everything in the fire.
On Monday, he said the only reason he is alive is because of a pair of brothers who went door to door making sure that people were able to get out safely.
"I couldn’t find my way out of the house and then someone came and grabbed me by my hand and pulled me outside," Francis said.
Police are crediting people like Thomas Reid, who went door to door with his brother, for helping to save lives.
"It happened so fast," Reid said.
Some evacuees were taken to Gibson Recreation Centre.
The Canadian Red Cross and Peel Salvation Army have been assisting the victims.
Peel housing will be working with the affected families to help them find shelter for the long and short term.
The city’s emergency manager Alain Normand said they have already received an overwhelming amount of donations.
"It's great to see the community pull together," Normand said, adding that aside from emergency food and clothes, money is badly needed.
"Some have insurance, some don't," Normand said. "Some lost everything."
The city has set up a trust fund through its website.
Anyone interested in helping affected families can donate financially to the Nicolas Gabriel/Ardglen Trust Fund at: regenbrampton.com.