Manitoba

Farmhouse fire claims lives of 4 Manitoba brothers

Smoke and heat made rescue impossible for four children trapped in the top floor of a two-storey home in rural Manitoba that burned to the ground Wednesday, officials say.

'The parents put every effort into saving all of their children,' politician says

Timmy Froese, 12, along with brothers Danny, 10, Henry, 9, and Bobby, 16, died in a house fire in Kane, Man., early Wednesday morning. (Facebook)

Smoke and heat made rescue impossible for four children trapped in the top floor of a two-storey home in rural Manitoba that burned to the ground Wednesday, officials say.

RCMP and the Rural Municipality of Morris held a joint news conference Wednesday afternoon to release more information about the fire near the small community of Kane, about 90 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg. 

They said the children's 34-year-old mother was able to escape with three other children.

Police said the names and ages of the children would not be released, but CBC News has learned their names are Bobby, 15, Timmy, 12, Danny, 10, and Henry, 9.

The children's grandfather, Henry Froese, told CBC News that the children's father and mother are in hospital in Winnipeg. 

Police and RM officials said there is no word yet on the cause of the blaze, which broke out around 12:30 a.m. 

Ralph Groening, the reeve of the RM, told CBC many in the community know the family. 

"It was a large family and it's a huge tragedy," said Groening  "We also know that the adults, the parents, put every effort into saving all of their children but were unsuccessful."

Local fire Chief Bernard Schellenberg said that by the time crews arrived the house was engulfed in flames.

The parents tried to go in to get their children, but with heavy smoke conditions, they could not.— Bernard Schellenberg, fire chief

"One section of the house, which is a new addition, had already collapsed, and the older portion of the house had fire coming out of the windows," he said.

"It sounded like the parents tried to go in to get their children, but with heavy smoke conditions, they could not."

Schellenberg said the father made the emergency call when he saw smoke coming from his house as he was returning from work.

He said 20 firefighters in three trucks responded to the call. 

He said the remains of those who died are still in the rubble of the house and the scene is now in the hands of the Office of the Fire Commissioner.

"We do not know the cause," he said. 

"They are all in shock,' grandfather says

Froese, the grandfather, said both parents are in hospital in Winnipeg, where they are being treated for smoke inhalation, while the three children who survived are staying with neighbours.

Firefighters and investigators lined up and bowed their heads for a moment as they sifted through what's left of the Froese family home. Four children died in the fire. Three of their siblings, and their father and mother, survived. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)
"My son is in the hospital. His wife is here, too, but she seems to be physically fine," Froese said, adding "they are all in shock."  

Groening said he was first notified of the tragedy at 2 a.m. when the fire department called him.

"They were doing the very best to save the home and residents, but unfortunately that was not possible," he said, adding he didn't know the family.

'It was pretty bad,' say neighbours

Kristy and Kari Penner, who live on the acreage next to the Froese home, said they arrived home from work at about 12 a.m. and their dog was barking frantically.

They looked out their window and saw the Froese house on fire, and rushed over to help. 

"The family that had gotten out already were out and by the road in the car. And the house was pretty much up in flames and stuff. It was pretty bad," said Kristy Penner.

The ruins of the farmhouse were still smouldering hours after the fire happened. (CBC)
She said they found three of the children, crying and in shock, sitting inside a vehicle with their mother. The father was standing outside, covered in dust and soot.

They offered to help and took the three children back to their home, where they have been caring for them.

Penner said one boy and two girls are among the three survivors. They didn't have all the ages but said one of them is just a year old. 

She said the Froese children, who were full of energy and lots of fun, spent a lot of time at her place in the summer.

Support, grief counselling being offered

The four boys who died in the fire went to school in the nearby communities of Lowe Farm and Rosenort.

Pauline Lafond-Bouchard, superintendent of the Red River Valley School Division, said crisis response teams were waiting for students when they arrived on Wednesday morning.

"Some of them knew. Coming off the bus … they knew. News travels fast today," she said.

Lafond-Bouchard said social workers and psychologists will be in the two schools for several days to help students and staff cope with the tragedy.

Groening and Schellenberg said the focus now turns to support.

"You accept the reality that you need to respond to that. You need to provide support. You need to be there for the family. You need to be there for the firefighters who attended the scene," Groening said.

Said Schellenberg, "I haven't heard how the family's doing, but I know the firefighters are going to be taking it a little rough because in small communities, everybody has an idea of who everybody is."

"The fire department [is] going to be offering our guys some critical incident stress debriefing," he added.

While there's been no official word on the cause of the fire, "the suggestion has been made" that it was started by baseboard heaters, Groening said.

The reeve said the community has already responded to the family's tragedy and someone has stepped forward to offer a new home for them. 

The RM's chief administrative officer, Larry Driedger, also said a fundraising effort is underway.

He said donations are being accepted at any branch of the Access Credit Union. Cheques for "Kane Fire Victims" should be made out to Access Credit Union can also be mailed to:

Access Credit Union
Lowe Farm Branch
Box 265
Lowe Farm, MB
R0G 1E0

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