'It's really hard': LaSalle families homeless as fire destroys apartments
About 20 people are homeless following early morning fire
Salha Hemed says she's seen her father cry twice in her life.
The first time was when his mother, her grandmother, died. The second was earlier this morning, as the only home they've ever had in Canada went up in flames.
Her parents have lived in an apartment on Airlie Street in LaSalle since they arrived from Tanzania 20 years ago. It's the only home Hemed, 18, and her two younger sisters have ever known.
She was up late last night watching TV when her sister came in and told her the room felt too warm. She thought it was just a heater – they're using space heaters because their building is undergoing renovations.
But then her sister opened the window and she realized there were flames outside.
"It's really hard for me because we lost everything. All of my books from school, my stuff, all my computers, everything. We didn't take anything with us," she said.
They don't have insurance.
20 people now homeless
The fire started around 2:45 a.m. on the third floor of the building.
According to Montreal fire department operations chief Danny Ciavaglia, the renovations may have caused the fire to spread faster.
It quickly overtook the third floor and the roof.
"Usually when a building is under renovation, we don't have all the fire protection that's up to code so a fire will tend to spread more rapidly," he said
Only five of the building's 15 units were occupied, and all the occupants lived on the first floor or in the basement.
The Hemed family are among 20 people who are now homeless.
Firefighters say a woman who was unaccounted for earlier in the day was later located at a friend's home.
'This whole place was an inferno'
David Kersulis lives nearby and woke up early Friday morning to hear the sound of sirens blaring.
He was startled when he looked outside.
"The houses were glowing," he said.
Worried it was his house on fire, he went outside to take a look and saw a big plume of smoke coming from one street over.
He got into his winter outerwear and went to investigate.
"I couldn't believe what I saw. This whole place was an inferno," he said, adding that he couldn't stay at the scene because the heat was so intense.
Cause to be determined
Part of the building collapsed, forcing firefighters at the scene to shift into defensive mode and fight the fire from outside.
Firefighters still on scene of major apartment fire in LaSalle. ~20 homeless two days before Christmas. <a href="https://t.co/kLAe7sorif">pic.twitter.com/kLAe7sorif</a>—@katemckenna8
About 80 firefighters were at the scene of the fire. Early Friday morning firefighters were working to put out spot fires still burning at the site.
The cause has not yet been determined.
Salha Hemed and her family watched from the street as their building burned.
They took refuge with a neighbour this morning and will be living in a hotel for the next six days, but they're still not sure where they're going to end up.
"We don't have any family here but my parents have friends and we thought maybe we could stay there for awhile. We really don't know what we're going to do, because, you know we lost everything," she said.
with files from Kate McKenna