2 die in rooming house fire in Winnipeg's North Point Douglas

Residents of a rooming house in Winnipeg's North Point Douglas neighbourhood scrambled to climb down the sides of the house to escape a fatal blaze Thursday morning, witnesses said.

15 people were in the house at the time the fire broke out, police say

A Winnipeg rooming house was engulfed in fire on Thursday morning. Police said 15 people were inside when the fire broke out and 13 of them were able to escape. (Courtesy Joshua Peterson)

Residents of a rooming house in Winnipeg's North Point Douglas neighbourhood scrambled to climb down the sides of the house to escape a fatal blaze Thursday morning, witnesses said.

Two people died and a number of others were treated for injuries after a fire broke out in the three-storey home in the 100 block of Austin Street North.

"A couple of the residents were coming down the side of the house," said Joshua Peterson, who lives in the area and called 911.

Peterson said one man who escaped the blaze was shirtless and panicked. "He was just telling us that there [were] four people still inside the house," he said. 

By the time fire crews arrived, the fire had spread to every floor of the building. Fifteen people were inside when the fire broke out, said police. 

It was a "chaotic scene," said Winnipeg police spokesman Const. Rob Carver

Joshua Peterson saw people "coming down the side of the house." (CBC)

Police said they are familiar with the home but wouldn't comment on why or how often they have been called to that address. 

There is no information yet on the ages of the victims or the cause of the fire.

'Problem house'

Sel Burrows, chair of the Point Douglas Residents Committee, said just a day earlier he was talking to cops about the issues with that home.

Sel Burrows said the house was a "problem." (CBC)
"I feel very guilty that we didn't do something that could have stopped this because we knew that house was a problem house," he said. 

The committee is asking the city to commit to annual inspections of rooming houses based on the livability bylaws. 

But Alex Forrest, president of the United Firefighters of Winnipeg, said the city's 12 fire inspectors don't have time to check out the 880 licensed registered rooming houses and the likely hundreds of ones the city doesn't know about.

"The majority of those inspectors will be inspecting businesses, especially high-risk businesses that have chemicals," he said. "So rooming houses basically are some of the last things that get inspected. Last year we could only inspect 500."

Forrest said, however, that the Austin Street North building was inspected in 2014 and met the city's fire code regulations, but it hasn't been inspected since.

'Really good people, kind people'

Trevor Berg, the pastor at Grace Point Church, which is a few blocks from the rooming house, said he always felt welcome when he visited the home.

He was last there approximately two months ago, he said.

"They were so welcoming to me and very friendly people," he said.

"I got to sit in one suite with about six or seven people and we talked and prayed together. It was a really neat experience. Really good, kind people."

Berg said a feeling of sadness washed over him when he found out about the fire.

"As soon as I heard which house it was and knowing that I knew quite a few people who lived in that home, I was pretty sad for them," he said.

Now, Berg wants to help the survivors find a new home.

"Hopefully it's not just a shelter," he said, explaining he is hoping for something that is comfortable.

"They've suffered enough."

As for the rest of the neighbourhood — and the city as a whole — Berg also has a wish for them: That they will see the victims and survivors of the fire as people.

"Sometimes, we write off this neighbourhood or even a specific house as like, a crack house or a problem area," he said.

"These are people who have suffered something horrible and I hope we can see them as that. These are my friends. These are real people."

Another fire hours earlier

The deaths at the Austin Street North home follow another house fire just a few hours earlier — and only a few blocks away.

Fire crews were called to a house in the 200 block of Aberdeen Avenue around 6 p.m. A man was found badly burned and initially determined to be in critical condition.

He was pronounced dead a short while later.

Two people are dead and a number of others are being treated for injuries after a house fire in Winnipeg's North Point Douglas neighbourhood. 0:36