Up to 32 feared dead in Canadian fire


A fire that ravaged a Canadian retirement home may have killed up to 32 people, authorities say as they resume their sombre search for bodies in the bitter cold.

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The blaze at the 52-unit residence in the small town of L’Isle-Verte, 450 kilometres northeast of Montreal, broke out just after midnight Thursday.

Within about an hour, the wood-frame, three-floor building was completely engulfed in flames, fanned by frigid winds of up to 70km/h.

“The total number of people missing is 32, of which we can confirm eight deaths,” Quebec provincial police spokesman Guy Lapointe told reporters.

Two of the eight remains have been identified, said Quebec coroner’s office spokeswoman Genevieve Guilbault. Families of the presumed victims have provided DNA samples and medical records to facilitate the process.

Brutally cold temperatures dipping to minus 30C that have blanketed the site, with ice hampering efforts to recover the possible 24 remaining bodies.

In parts, the layer was 60cm thick, Lapointe said.

Faced with these conditions, relief workers have brought equipment to the scene that is normally used to de-ice boats.

Investigators have yet to identify what caused the deadly inferno in the French-speaking Canadian province.

Radio-Canada reported that a cigarette was to blame, saying one of the residents lit up in his room rather than going to the designated smoker’s area.

But Lapointe stressed: “that’s one hypothesis among several.”

Officials have said the building met safety codes but initial indications suggest the oldest part of the building, constructed in 1997, was not equipped with an automatic fire sprinkler system.