PUBNICO, N.S. — A Nova Scotia fishing village is shaken after a house fire left four people dead early Sunday, including at least two children, according to a relative.
RCMP Cpl. Jennifer Clarke said two people escaped the fire in Pubnico Head, N.S, near Yarmouth, one of whom was hospitalized with serious injuries.
Ervin Olsen said two of his great-grandchildren were among the four people who died, but he declined to give further details, saying the losses were too “fresh.”
“There’s still people in hospital fighting for their life,” he said Sunday night.
Four children lived in the now-destroyed home and their father is being treated in hospital, where his common-law wife is with him, said Red Cross spokesperson Melanie MacDonald.
MacDonald said the common-law couple lived in the home with their blended family, and a relative told the Red Cross an infant boy was among those killed in the blaze.
“There were three other children in the house, but the only thing we know of age-wise is there was an infant boy,” said MacDonald.
All that is left of the home is one tattered wall and a smouldering mass of charred wood, melted insulation and objects that have been so twisted by intense heat they look unwordly. Steam was still rising Sunday night from the remains of the home, eerily lit up by television lights amid a light snowfall.
A child’s small pink bike was leaned up against a pile of firewood in a driveway next to the home.
“The house went up in flames very quickly,” said a neighbour who did not give her name. “It’s just a humongous tragedy. It’s so traumatic.”
Residents of the area identified the father as a lobster fisherman whose family has lived in the house for generations.
The tragedy sparked an outpouring of grief on social media, with users extending their support and prayers to the relatives of those who died and the emergency workers who attended to the scene.
Many social media users said the tragedy weighed heavily on their hearts, and resolved to hold their kids a little closer Sunday night.
Clarke confirmed there were multiple fatalities in the fire, which was reported to police shortly after midnight, but she could not confirm how many people died or their ages.
She said police have spoken to the families of the deceased.
“I cannot imagine how any family member would take news like this,” Clarke told reporters on Sunday. “This is a horrible, horrible tragedy for anyone to experience.”
Clarke said the RCMP are in early stages of a “complex” investigation, which will be assisted by the force’s Major Crime Unit, the Nova Scotia Office of the Fire Marshal and the province’s medical examiner.
Clarke would not say whether the fire is believed to be suspicious.
Kathy Bourque, a municipal councillor in Pubnico Head, said the deaths have devastated the small community on Nova Scotia’s southwest coast.
“Everybody knows everybody here in the community, so we’re a close-knit family,” Bourque said in an interview. “When tragic things like this hits, it hits everybody.”
Bourque said she learned about the fatal fire from her husband, Gilles Bourque, a firefighter who responded to the scene.
“My heart sank to my feet,” she said. “I can’t imagine myself being those people in the family’s shoes. It’s unreal.”
Dozens of firefighters from several departments in the area arrived to find the home fully engulfed in flames, said Troy Amirault, deputy chief of the West Pubnico Fire Department.
“By the time we got the trucks out there, most of the house was burning,” Gilles Bourque said.
He said the wind-chill made it feel like – 25 C at the time. He said a portable water pump froze, as did one of the fire trucks.
About 40 firefighters fought the blaze, he said.
— With files from Adina Bresge in Halifax
Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press