2 firefighters in deadly Winnipeg blaze were 'heroes,' says home's owner

A Winnipeg blaze that killed two firefighters — described by the judge who owned the burning home as "heroes" — likely began in the garage, says Manitoba's fire commissioner, although officials have not finished their investigation.

A Winnipeg blaze that killed two firefighters— described by the judge who owned the burning home as "heroes"— likelybegan in the garage, saysManitoba's fire commissioner, althoughofficials have not finished their investigation.

"We believe strongly that it started in the garage. We just don't know what caused it yet, so now we're digging down to find out exactly what caused it," commissioner Doug Popowich said Tuesday.

Investigators were still waiting to finalize some details before they can say what caused the fire. Popowich had hoped to confirm the cause on Wednesday.

Popowich spoke the same day Manitoba Court of Appeal Justice Richard Chartier, who was away on vacation when the blaze broke out Sunday,said that he and his wife hope to offer condolencesin personto the families ofCapt. Harold Lessard and Capt. Thomas Nichols.

"They were heroes,"Chartier told CBC News."It was heroic what they did, to go into a fire-filled home, and try to save our home and check if other people were there."

He added that he felt sick to his stomach upon hearing about the deaths of the senior firefighters. The Chartiers' teenage son was in the St. Boniface home when the fire started, but he escaped uninjured.

"My sympathies go out to the families," the judge said."I can't imagine what they're going through, and I thank them for the work that the firefighters are doing."

A private funeral service for Lessard is scheduled for Thursday afternoon, while details of Nichols's funeral are not yet known. The United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg union hopes to announce details soon of a public memorial for both men.

Public shares sympathies

Union president Alex Forrest said he and his colleagues have been astounded by a public outpouring of emotion in response to the fire.

The union's website crashed Tuesday afternoon, unable to support the amount of visitors who wanted to share their sympathies and find out the status of the several other firefighters injured in the blaze. The website was operating again Wednesday morning.

People have also been approaching firefighters in person to offer their condolences, Forrest said.

"The guys are saying that there's constant visitors to the firehalls," he said. "People are driving by, and they see a firehall and they just come in, and they just want to shake the hands of the firefighters and just [are] saying, 'We're so sorry.'

"And it's really amazing — someone will come in, and the guys will start talking to them and they'll be in the firehall. They'll go for coffee and just talk with complete strangers about Harold and Tom."

Winnipeg resident Irene Podolchuk said she felt it was important to reach out to the city's firefighters.

"Sometimes you feel you want to say, 'You know, good job, man,' and we don't say it enough," she said.