Family that lost 7 children in fire came to Halifax as refugees in 2017

Seven children, ranging in age from four months old to 14 years old, are dead following a fire early Tuesday — the deadliest house fire in recent Nova Scotia history.

Firefighters called to scene in community of Spryfield around 1 a.m. AT

The Barho family are shown on their arrived at the Halifax airport in September 2017. Ebraheim Barho is recovering from severe burns, the result of a house fire last month that killed his seven children. (Enfield Weekly Press)

Seven children are dead following a fire early Tuesday that swept through the Halifax home of a Syrian refugee family, the deadliest house fire in recent Nova Scotia history.

Halifax police confirmed the deaths at the house on Quartz Drive in the community of Spryfield.

Ebraheim and Kawthar Barho arrived in Nova Scotia with their children in September 2017 and moved to Spryfield last summer, neighbours and friends said. 

The group that sponsored the family to come to Canada identified the victims as: 

  • Abdullah, three months old
  • Rana, 2
  • Hala, 3
  • Ola, 8
  • Mohamad, 9
  • Rola, 12
  • Ahmed, 14
Ola, 8, and Mohamad, 9, on their first day of school last fall. (Ummah Masjid/Facebook)

Danielle Burt, who lives next door to the home and knows the family, said she heard a loud noise in the middle of the night. 

"I heard a huge bang, and I was laying in bed with my daughter, followed by a woman screaming, so I jumped up out of bed and looked out the back window and all I could see was flames shooting out from the back door going out onto their deck," she said.

Burt said she grabbed her four children, ran outside and called 911.

"It happened all so fast. The house went up really quickly."

The fire damage to the back of the house is extensive. (Robert Short/CBC)

She said the Barho children were good friends with her kids. 

"They were just over at our house yesterday," said Burt. "It's just something out of a horror movie that you just never would wish on anybody."

Family starting their lives in Canada

Imam Ibrahim Al-shanti presides over the Al-Barakah Masjid mosque, which the family attended. The mosque has posted details to their Facebook page about funeral arrangements and a GoFundMe campaign for the family.  

​"They are a very nice family with lovely kids, whom we've lost, it's sad enough," he said. 

"They are starting their lives down here. They have all kinds of hopes, you know."

Baby Abdullah Barho, in a photo posted to Facebook by the Halifax mosque the family attended. (Ummah Masjid/Facebook)

Al-shanti said the children's father is in critical condition after running back into the house to try to save his children.

The children's mother is emotionally distressed.

"The mother, you know, she is trying to cope with it," he said.

"We have all hopes that they will survive this."

Al-shanti said 20 members of the Syrian community came to the hospital as a show of support for the family.

In a statement, federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen extended his sympathies to the family and said settlement organizations have engaged crisis counsellors in Halifax to help people impacted by the tragedy.

'The community is reeling'

Steve Adams, city councillor for the Spryfield area, called the deaths a "horrible tragedy."

"I know the community is reeling, but I know they're there for anyone who needs help," Adams said.

Two of the children attended Central Spryfield Elementary, while two others attended Rockingstone Heights, an elementary and junior high school, said a spokesperson for the Halifax Regional Centre for Education. The schools have additional staff in place starting today to provide support to students. 

Wad Hassan, a friend of the family, said she met the mother last year while taking English classes together and last saw her four days ago.

Hassan said that when she heard the news, she started making calls and discovered the victims were her friends.

"I can only pray that they find the strength and patience they need in this very difficult time," she told CBC News in Arabic.

The Barhos were sponsored to come to Canada by a group called the Hants East Assisting Refugee Team Society, or HEART. The Enfield Weekly Press posted video of the group welcoming the family when they arrived at the Halifax airport.

 

Fire investigation could take months

Adams said most of the homes in the neighbourhood were built in the past two to five years. The family affected by the fire was renting the home, CBC News has learned.  

It's the second fire in Nova Scotia that's claimed many lives in just over a year. In January 2018, four children died in a house fire in Pubnico Head in the southwest part of the province.

The roof was destroyed and there's significant damage to the upper floor following the fire at the home in Spryfield, a community in Halifax, that left seven children dead. The family was renting the home. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Deputy Chief Dave Meldrum said the fire department received multiple calls beginning at 12:41 a.m.

He said firefighters encountered heavy fire on the first and second floors of the home that made it difficult to fight. Multiple hoses were needed to battle the blaze.

Meldrum said the investigation into the fire's cause could take days or even months.

The roof was destroyed and the house is gutted. The siding on houses on either side are charred from the flames.

"Anytime someone passes away in a fire, it's certainly a very tragic circumstance, and our thoughts really go out to the family at this time," said Halifax police Const. John MacLeod.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. (Robert Short/CBC)

Quartz Drive has been closed to pedestrians and vehicles. Police are asking people to avoid the area while emergency crews investigate.

Halifax District Fire Chief Mike Blackburn said there's still a lot of work to be done in the investigation.

He said a Critical Incident Stress Management Team has also been brought in to help first responders deal with what they've seen.

"They'll process this over time, but it's very, very difficult and it's not going to get any easier."

The fire broke out at a home in Spryfield before 1 a.m. AT on Tuesday. (Google Maps)

Local MLA Brendan Maguire said people in the community have contacted him offering support for the family.

"It's devastating to think this is a family that came to potentially to Canada for a better life and — I mean as a father of three, you know I can't even imagine. I can't even imagine what they're going through right now."

The fire that claimed the lives of seven children in Spryfield early Tuesday is one of the worst in recent memory. Here are other devastating fires recorded in the last century in Nova Scotia. 1:23

With files from Paul Palmeter, Aya Al-Hakim, Shaina Luck and Richard Woodbury