Father and 4 children die in house fire on Oneida reserve near London, Ont.
'The community has suffered a terrible tragedy and we are only starting to grasp the reality,' chief says
A father and four of his children, including an infant son, died in a house fire on the Oneida reserve near London, Ont., Wednesday morning.
An emotional Kristen Ireland confirmed to CBC News that her brother, Kurt Antone, and four of his sons, died in the blaze.
"They were amazing, they were the most precious things you could have in your life," she said.
The mother and the couple's oldest three children were not home at the time of the fire.
The Oneida Nation of the Thames community — a reserve of about 2,000 people a half-hour drive west of London — is in shock by the loss, Chief Randall Phillips said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.
"The community has suffered a terrible tragedy and we are only starting to grasp the reality of what has happened," Phillips said. "This loss is tremendous is a community such as ours."
The fire, which started around 11 a.m. Wednesday, was so severe, the fire marshal's investigation had to be postponed Wednesday evening.
Phillips met with band councillors, police and the province's fire marshal at the band office. Flags at the cenotaph have been lowered to half-mast.
Joseph Ireland, who works at Ambrose Gas Bar & Convenience, said he often saw the children when they came in to buy snacks and sometimes gas for their parents.
"They were really little and they'd have to reach over the counter, so sometimes they would say: 'This in gas please,'" Ireland said. "They were very polite, very wonderful children."
Poor housing conditions
Phillips criticized the federal and provincial governments for not improving housing conditions on reserves.
"First Nations' housing is in a crisis," he said. "The particular property that was involved was an older property and it was basically kindling."
Oneida council applied for federal government funding to refurbish homes on the reserve, but the application was rejected.
"We have overcrowding here — we have a lack of housing here," he said. "We're one of the largest communities in Ontario, yet our funding is based on a formula that's 200 years old."
Support for family
Oneida's administrators have arranged for counselling services for those who needs help dealing with the tragedy.
The tight-knit community will need all the help it can get, Phillips said during the news conference.
"There's not a person in this community that doesn't know one of the victims or the victims' family," he said.
Support for the family has spread beyond the reserve. An online fundraiser was launched Thursday morning, surpassing its fundraising goal of $1,000 within hours.
"We are in need of money for clothing, food, household items, etc," read a post on the GoFundMe website, where many expressed their sadness at the loss.
Natasha Edwards helps run Neighbourhood Family Fire — Donations, a Facebook group that gathers donations for people whose lives have been destroyed by fire.
She said the group was contacted after the Oneida reserve fire and asked to collect necessities including blankets, toiletries, kitchen items and winter boots.
"I am sure the children are in need of some presents for under the tree as well, if anyone is able to help with that," she wrote on Facebook.
With files from Dan Taekema, Aadel Haleem, Sebastien St-Francois