TCH fire leaves 'too many questions' unanswered, victims' families say

Family and friends of an elderly couple killed in a Toronto Community Housing fire earlier this month are paying their final respects today, while a personal care worker who survived the blaze recovers in a hyperbaric chamber.

Fazeela Khan​, whose aunt was killed, is recovering in hospital with her sister by her side

Bibi Javed visits her sister Fazeela Khan in the hospital every day as she recovers from the TCH fire that killed their elderly aunt. (Handout )

Family and friends of an elderly couple killed in a Toronto Community Housing fire earlier this month are paying their final respects today, while a personal care worker who survived the blaze recovers in a hyperbaric chamber.

Charles and Hyacinth Roberts were among the three people killed on Feb. 5 when a fire broke out at Neilson Hall Apartments. A funeral for the couple — who were married for 51 years, had six children and 22 grandchildren — will be held today at 11 a.m. 
Penny Roberts-Joseph says her mother Hyacinth was a strong woman and her father Charles was hard-working and funny. (CBC)

Speaking to CBC News on Sunday during a visitation for her late parents, Penny Roberts-Joseph said it's too soon to say goodbye. 

"Mom was our matriarch. She was a tough, small woman, but so strong," she said. "And dad was older, but he was so funny. He was like the funniest person that I know — always makes us laugh, worked hard all of his life, and we find this tragic death should not have happened. It should not." 

Toronto Fire Services said last week the fatal fire was caused in part by some furniture in a hallway that burst into flames around 3 p.m.   
Family and friends of Charles and Hyacinth Roberts pay their final respects today.

Toronto Community Housing, which runs the building, was charged under the Ontario Fire Code with having combustible material in a means of egress and fined $100,000. TCH is contesting the fine. 

Charles and Hyacinth lived on the fifth floor of the building where the fire broke out. They were found unconscious in the hallway. 

"It's just wanting to know, what was mom and dad doing? Why were they heading that way? There's too many unanswered questions," Penny said.

Survivor in hyberbaric chamber

When Toronto Fire confirmed three people had died, one life still hung in the balance — Fazeela Khan​, a personal support worker who was assisting her aunt when the fire broke out. 

Now she's in rehabilitation at Rouge Valley Hospital​, spending much of her time in a hyperbaric chamber to help heal her lungs. She found out on Saturday that her aunt, 86-year-old Azeema Safraj, was the third victim.  
Bibi Javed has unanswered questions about the fire that killed her elderly aunt and left her sister in hospital with severe burns. (CBC)

"She was a little devastated and concerned, but I think deep down in her mind she probably knew," Khan's sister, Bibi Javed, told CBC News.

Javed visits her sister every day. Like Roberts-Joseph, she still has questions about the tragedy at Neilson Hall Apartments.

"She said she heard the fire alarm, and they were in the apartment and they heard someone knocking at the door, so when she opened the door it was the superintendent. I believe he was going door to door asking people to leave," she said.

"If you're asking the people to leave, and they're in wheelchairs and walkers and you're asking them to leave the apartment, how are they expected to get down the stairs? There should have been more training in that."

Earlier this week, Toronto Fire said they are creating a task force to inspect all 200 TCH buildings, including 69 seniors residences, to make sure they are up to code. They will also retrain staff and residents in fire safety. 

With files from Ali Chiasson


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