2 dead in Winnipeg house fire, 2 others jumped out window
People were screaming, racing around in panic when police arrived around 2 a.m.
Two people are dead and two others in hospital after an early morning house fire in Winnipeg's North Point Douglas neighbourhood.
Police are not naming the two victims who died in the Friday blaze, saying they must be formally identified, but people close to the family told CBC News it was a young girl and her grandmother.
"It's my understanding that this is a family that was involved in this," said Const. Jay Murray. "It's unfortunate. A family has lost, I believe, two members."
Watch neighbour Jaqueline Bear describe the scene at the deadly fire:
Two others — a 54-year-old woman and a 17-year-old young man — escaped the fire by jumping from the second floor of the two-storey home and into the arms of neighbours.
The woman was taken to hospital in critical condition and the youth in unstable condition. They have since been upgraded to stable condition.
The home on Prince Edward Street was too engulfed in flames for any firefighters to enter when they arrived shortly before 2:30 a.m.
It was a difficult decision for crews to stand down, assistant fire chief Ihor Holowczynsky said.
"We can't endanger our own crews on a situation which may already be lost," he said.
"The reports are there was fire out every window and door when they arrived."
School in mourning
One of the victims of the fire was a girl who was in Grade 6 at nearby Gonzaga Middle School.
"Members of our school community called us this morning to share the devastating news of what had occurred," said principal Rachael Andrew.
"We're grieving [and] we're doing it together. We cry, we laugh, we remember things about her — the good times."
We're grieving [and] we're doing it together. We cry, we laugh, we remember things about her — the good times.- Rachael Andrew, school principal
Staff were informed when they arrived in the morning and the students were told shortly after that, said Kyle Mason, a board member with the privately run school.
Grief counsellors were available on Friday for staff and students who required them.
"We're just doing everything possible to make sure the students are able to talk or to express their feelings when the time arises, and also with the staff as well — that the staff have an opportunity to begin processing and interacting over this very tragic news," said Mason.
Students are also creating collages and writing letters and will take them to an evening memorial walk, Andrew said.
The school, which offers classes from grades 6-8, only has 60 students, "so it is very tight-knit," said Mason.
The first calls about the fire came in around 2:15 a.m., fire officials said.
Police were the first to arrive at the chaotic scene, where people were screaming and racing around in a panic, a witnesses said.
I did the best I can, but I think I'm gonna live with a lot, because I hear those voices and I still hear them. I know I'm gonna hear them for a while.- Ron Laing
The woman and teen had already jumped by that time, caught by neighbours who had gathered to help.
When firefighters arrived shortly after, they couldn't get inside the home to search for the two others.
"I did the best I can, but I think I'm gonna live with a lot, because I hear those voices and I still hear them. I know I'm gonna hear them for a while," said neighbour Ron Laing, who helped the woman and teen get out.
Another neighbour, Toni Desmarais, ran to the burning home to help in whatever way she could.
"A man from the next block, he was already there and he had a pickaxe in his hand. He was trying to get into the house. He was breaking windows, trying to get in," she said.
"It's devastating," said Jaqueline Bear, who also lives nearby and helped catch the woman and teen.
Her husband saw the flames and called 911. The couple then rushed to the house, where a neighbour was already calling to two people on the second floor.
The older lady, she was all burned. Me and the other fellow caught her and then the [boy] jumped and we helped catch him- Jaqueline Bear
"He was there and he [tried to] coax them down but they wouldn't jump. And then I came to help and then they jumped," said Bear.
"The older lady, she was all burned. Me and the other fellow caught her and then the [boy] jumped and we helped catch him."
Bear and others helped the woman walk to an ambulance and she and the boy were then rushed to hospital.
Desmarais said the woman had burns on both arms, her hair was singed and her face was so coated in black from the smoke that she couldn't open her eyes.
"I feel hurt for the family," she said.
The fire was under control as of 8 a.m. but was still smouldering at 10 a.m., as fire crews moved the aerial truck in to try to recover the bodies.
It took until early afternoon.
"Given the amount of fire damage visible from the exterior, it looks like the structure is quite severely damaged," said assistant fire chief Ihor Holowczynsky on Friday morning. "One wall is bowed out, so it really is unsafe to enter."
Other fires in area
There were reports of several other fires in Point Douglas around the same time, he said, but he didn't know what else burned.
Winnipeg police reported Friday afternoon that they have somebody in custody in connection with four fires, but have no evidence that person is linked to the fatal fire.
"We certainly don't have anything that links those fires to this one," Murray said.
At least one of the Point Douglas fires started in a garage, said a witness who lives a few houses away.
"Someone is going around and starting fires please keep your eyes open!!" says a message on the We love Point Douglas page on Facebook, noting a garage fire on Austin Street and a house fire on Granville Street.
Others have posted there were four other fires in the area, including another on Lorne Avenue.
With files from Erin Brohman, Meaghan Ketcheson, Alana Cole, Darren Bernhardt and Ian Froese.
- In an earlier version of this story, police said the age of the woman who escaped from the house was 64. Her correct age is 54.Oct 26, 2018 11:47 PM CT