Manitoba

2nd body found in house fire rubble

The remains of a second person have been found in the rubble of a weekend house fire in Shamattawa, a remote First Nations community in northern Manitoba.

11-year-old boy reported missing Monday may have been in the house

RCMP remained at the scene of a fatal fire in Shamattawa on Wednesday. The home burned down on Saturday, but human remains weren't discovered until Tuesday. ((CBC))
The remains of a second person have been found in the rubble of a weekend house fire in Shamattawa, a remote First Nations community in northern Manitoba.

A search through the debris will continue Wednesday but there are no reports of missing persons in the community just south of Hudson Bay, the RCMP said. A house-to-house search was being conducted in hopes of identifying who the second person is.

The remains of two people have been found in the rubble of a house fire on the Shamattawa First Nation in northern Manitoba. (CBC)
A body was found in the rubble Tuesday. An autopsy has yet to be performed but RCMP suspect it is that of an 11-year-old boy reported missing on Monday.

An autopsy to identify the remains of the second body is also being arranged, but Sgt. Line Karpish admitted it will be a challenge.

"It's quite difficult to identify the body with no starting point. The body is burned beyond recognition," she said.

"Either dental records or DNA will be used."

The fire, which destroyed the home, broke out at about 4 a.m. on Jan. 2, the RCMP said. Initially it was believed nobody was in the residence but on the evening of Jan. 4, the RCMP were notified by a band councillor about the 11-year-old, who had been staying at the home with his grandparents.

Other recent fire deaths on Manitoba First Nations

  • March 2008: Three boys aged three, four and five and their uncle, 57, are killed in a fire on Pukatawagan.
  • November 2008: Two men, aged 38 and 62, die in a fire on Sagkeeng.
  • February 2009: A nine-year-old girl dies in a house fire on Sandy Bay.
  • May 2009: A five-year-old boy dies in a house fire on Sandy Bay.
  • Jan. 1, 2010: A man, believed to be 26 years old, dies in a fire on God's Lake Narrows. 

The RCMP along with local band constables and councillors tried to find the boy in the community but were unsuccessful. RCMP officers and representatives from the Manitoba Office of the Fire Commissioner then searched the rubble and found human remains on Tuesday.

They continued to search through the rubble and discovered the remains of a second person later the same day.

Searching through the rubble was a challenge because the water supply to the home was not shut off immediately after the fire. As a result, the water kept running froze over the rubble, RCMP said.

Police have erected a tent over the site in an attempt to thaw it out and further examine it.

Boy in care of Child and Family Services

Pharoah Thomas, a Pentecostal pastor in the community, said Tuesday the 11-year-old boy was in the care of the Awasis Child and Family Services (CFS) agency and usually lived in a foster home on reserve. However, he was allowed to stay with relatives for a family visit during the holidays.

The Awasis Child and Family Services agency office located on the Shamattawa First Nation. ((www.kitayan.ca))
According to members of the community, the boy was staying with his grandparents who owned the house that burned.

Thomas told CBC News on Tuesday that he received a phone call early Saturday from a woman saying it would be the last time he ever heard from her and asked him to watch over her son. Then she hung up.

Thomas ran to the home where he believed the woman was and saw smoke.

He said he kicked the door open and crawled inside, feeling around in the dark. He tried to check all the bedrooms but the heat and flames drove him back before he was able to enter the last one, he said.

He hollered but received no response, and then got out of the house.

Of 66 kids in the community in the care of CFS, all but one has been accounted for, First Nations officials said.

Child welfare officials said proper protocols were followed in the boy's case, but there may have been a miscommunication between the boy's foster home and his grandparents.

"There's no evidence that the standards were not followed as far as looking for a child that may be missing that is in care," said George Muswagon, acting head of the Awasis CFS.

"When the children are returned to their parents for visits, the expectation is that the parents monitor [them] as anybody would, as far as coming in on time, having a place to sleep," he said.

No response from firefighters

When officers from the Shamattawa RCMP detachment arrived at the burning house, they attempted to contact the local volunteer fire department without success, the RCMP's Karpish said on Tuesday.

No one from the Shamattawa Fire Department could be reached when the house fire was discovered, the RCMP said. ((www.kitayan.ca))
She said she didn't know why there was no response from fire crews and deferred comment on the matter to band officials.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief David Harper said on Wednesday that he is also waiting to find out why local firefighters didn't respond. The organization Harper leads represents most First Nations communities in northern Manitoba.

Shamattawa Chief Jeff Napoakesik refused to comment on Tuesday but confirmed the community does have a fire chief. Napoakesik didn't identify him.

However, Curtis Smith, who heads the Manitoba Association of Native Firefighters, said fire response in remote communities can be a hit-and-miss venture.

He said that Shamattawa has a fire truck and that a few of the community's volunteer firefighters attended training sessions in Winnipeg last summer.

Smith said he wasn't sure what emergency communication infrastructure the community has.

On Sunday, the day after the blaze, RCMP officers located the owners of the destroyed home at a relative's house in the community. They were safe, and they gave no indication that anyone else might have been in the burned house, Karpish said.

"We were told there was no reason for anyone else to be in the house — there shouldn't have been anyone in the house," Karpish said.

RCMP initially did not call in fire officials because the fire wasn't deemed suspicious in any way. It wasn't until Monday that officers were told about the missing boy, and Karpish said that triggered an immediate call to the provincial fire commissioner's office.

With files from The Canadian Press

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