Manitoba

Manitoba fire victim's family gets support

Relatives from Germany are arriving in a small Manitoba community to help a family through a tragic time, while donations of food and money are being requested.
Fire destroyed the Merkel family home near La Broquerie, Man., just after 5:30 a.m. Saturday. ((CBC))

Relatives from Germany are arriving in a small Manitoba community to help a family through a tragic time, while donations of food and money are being requested.

Jacob Merkel, 36, died in hospital on Sunday, one day after saving his 13-year-old son from the basement of their burning home.

The boy, whose name has not been released, has undergone several skin grafts and is still listed in critical condition in a Winnipeg hospital.

Fire destroyed the Merkel family home near La Broquerie, Man., just after 5:30 a.m. Saturday.

Merkel's wife and three of their children escaped without injury.

The fire also engulfed a semi parked near the home. ((CBC))

Family friend Valantina Dunai is helping look after the three uninjured children and Merkel's distraught wife, Ludmilla, while relatives of the Merkels arrive from Germany to help arrange and attend the funeral.

The family moved to the area, about 10 kilometres east of the city of Steinbach, from Germany in 2004, said Dunai, who described Merkel as a quiet, devoted dad.

"He was outgoing, but only with family members. He wasn't like a party man," she said.

"He liked to spend time with his family. They were out on trips a lot … just basically a close family."

The death has been extremely difficult for Ludmilla, said Dunai.

"She always said, 'No, I don't believe it. If I wake up, I know he's gonna be here.' She is really, really, really depressed."

Donations needed

The fire left the Merkel family with nothing but the clothes they were wearing when they escaped.

An account has been created at the Steinbach Credit Union for donations of money, while donations of clothing have already piled up.

"It's been amazing. People have brought so much. Everyone has tried to help," said Dunai's sister, Helena.

The fire appears to have been electrical and started in the attached garage, said Alain Nadeau, chief of the La Broquerie fire department.

Praise for a hero

Merkel made the ultimate sacrifice to save his son, said Nadeau.

"If you want to talk about heroic acts, there is nothing more heroic than a dad trying to save his children from such a tragedy," he said. "I mean, it's amazing what a dad will do for his family."

Jacob Merkel, 36, died in a hospital on Sunday, one day after saving his 13-year-old son from the basement of their burning home. ((Family photo))

The incident has prompted Nadeau to encourage people to install heat sensors in their garages. He believes it could have made a difference for Merkel.

"Oh yes, this fire had been going in the garage for at least 30 minutes," Nadeau said, noting that a sensor in the garage would cause an alarm to go off inside the home, giving people enough time to get out.

Heat sensors in garages were made mandatory for all new construction beginning in 2008, as part of Manitoba's building codes, which also call for fireproof drywall between a new house and an attached garage to stop fires from spreading.

The new building codes were prompted by a blaze that killed Winnipeg firefighters in February 2007.

Harold Lessard, 55, and Tom Nichols, 57, died during an intense fire at a home on Place Gabrielle Roy, a cul-de-sac neighbourhood across from the French Quarter of St. Boniface.

The fire was sparked by cigarette butts dumped into a garbage container in the garage.

That fire quickly spread to the attached house, which burned so rapidly and with such intense heat it created the flashover, a phenomenon that results in an area suddenly bursting into flame.