Emergency workers search through the frozen rubble of a seniors residence Friday, January 24, 2014 in L'Isle-Verte, Que. Five people are confirmed dead and 30 people are still missing. Ryan Remiorz/CP
The fire that destroyed a L'Isle-Verte, Que., seniors' home and killed at least eight people started in a resident's room, sources have told Radio-Canada.
According to the source, one of the residents asked an employee for permission to go outside to smoke a cigarette. The employee reportedly refused. The fire began shortly thereafter.
The resident's balcony door was open upon the arrival of firefighters, the source said.
CBC and Radio-Canada have confirmed the deaths of five people after speaking to their family members:
- Audette Dubé, 82.
- Therèse Ann Jean, 85.
- Joseph (Jo) Malenfant, 90.
- Jeanette Raymond, 91.
- Marie-Jeanne Saindon, 99.
Saindon was just three months shy of her 100th birthday. Her son, Marc Saindon, identified her by her maiden name, Gagnon, but the small community of L'Isle-Verte knew her as Madame Saindon.
Extreme cold hampers search
Lt. Guy Lapointe of the provincial police force said the extreme cold presents a big challenge to workers trying to comb through the scene.
"People worked very hard today … It's very difficult work," Lapointe said, adding search efforts would be put on hold at 7 p.m. ET Friday and would resume at 7 a.m. ET Saturday.
The number of missing, which had been set at 30, has not been changed by officials.
Lapointe said they may bring in special equipment that produces vapour to melt the ice on the site of the fire.
Quebec coroner Geneviève Guilbault said identification work is being done to confirm the remains search crews have discovered so far in the rubble of the seniors' home in the rural Quebec town, about 28 kilometres northeast of Rivière-du-Loup.
Owners may not rebuild
Roch Bernier and Irene Plante, who have owned the residence since 1999, said they may not rebuild in the aftermath of the tragedy.. They issued a statement late Friday afternoon extending their sincere condolences to the victims' families.
"Although they loved their job, their residents and their employees, Mr. Bernier and Ms. Plante would like to mention that it is still too early to say if they have or not to rebuild the residence Le Havre," the release said.
They said they wanted to focus their energies on relocating and assuring the well-being of the displaced residents for the time being.
Residence respected security regulations
The seniors' residence that burned down in L'Isle-Verte was in line with security regulations, Quebec's minister for social services says as the search for the missing continues.
"We don't know what happened," VéroniqueHivon told reporters on Friday morning.
Hivon said the most recent safety drill at the residence was carried out in under eight minutes.
The older part of the Résidence du Havre was built in 1997, and had no sprinkler system, although a newer wing built in 2002 was equipped with sprinklers.
Hivon said the government must do "everything possible to make sure that ... such tragedies don't happen again."
Police are not speculating on what may have caused the fire. Quebec provincial police Lt. Guy Lapointe said investigators have not ruled out anything yet.
'We will not give up'
As the search for the missing continues, Lapointe said many members of the emergency crews are suffering from loss as well.
"We will not give up," he said.
He said police officers and firefighters worked overnight to bring the fire under control.
Workers are dealing with extreme cold and a thick coating of ice over the rubble. Lapointe said as crews search through the building's remains, they are using steam to melt the ice.
He said the steam will help ensure the scene isn't damaged.
The tragedy has been designated as a Fourth Level response, meaning that local officials, the Quebec coroners’ office and the Quebec forensic laboratory are involved in the operation.
Police are reminding members of the public to stay outside marked-off perimeters. There is a red zone set up around the remaining rubble, and police are asking the public not to go inside that zone.
A total of 52 people were listed as living in the building, but provincial police are still trying to pin down how many of them were inside at the time of the fire.
As the close-knit town of 1,500 people wait for news of their loved ones, a memorial service has been planned for Sunday.
The mass will be held at 2 p.m. on Sunday at the Church of St-Jean-Baptiste-de-l'Isle-Verte.
Priest Gilles Frigon said the service will be open to everyone.
Several guests have been invited to come and speak, including a representative for the firefighters and MNA Jean D'Amour.
Red Cross asks for donations
The Red Cross launched a collection for donations, asking the public to give to those affected by the tragedy.
The fund will be used to help victims' families and evacuees pay for essential needs.
According to the Red Cross, there is a need for at least $50,000 in donations.
By Friday afternoon, three companies in Quebec had donated a combined $50,000.
Volunteers with the Red Cross have been on the scene since 3 a.m. Thursday, meeting with survivors.
Financial donations are expected to cover the cost of housing, clothing and food, but the Red Cross says there is also a need for dentures, hearing aids, mobility aids and glasses.
To make a donation, click here.