Skip to main content

Fire at Quebec seniors' home leaves 5 dead, 30 missing

By AnneClaire Stapleton and Jason Hanna, CNN
updated 1:41 AM EST, Fri January 24, 2014
  • NEW: Water used to fight the blaze has turned to ice, complicating search for victims
  • Police fear death toll will rise; at least 20 people escaped
  • Mayor says most residents were not able to get around on their own

(CNN) -- A fire swept through an apartment complex for the elderly in the small Quebec town of L'Isle-Verte early Thursday, killing at least five and leaving roughly 30 others unaccounted for, police said.

Frigid temperatures have made search efforts difficult, police Lt. Guy Lapointe said hours after the fire began. Water used to fight the blaze has frozen into ice, he said, trapping pockets of fire, and possibly victims, in the collapsed three-story building.

Police said they fear some of the missing were in the burned and frozen remains of the 52-unit Residence du Havre, situated in the town of about 1,400 people near the St. Lawrence River northeast of Quebec City.

Authorities were still struggling to figure out exactly how many people were in the building when the fire hit.

"We need to establish who was there, who wasn't, and find out exactly how many people were inside at the time of the blaze," Lapointe said.

A fire swept through a seniors home in L'Isle-Verte, Quebec, early Thursday, January 23, killing more than a dozen people, police said. A fire swept through a seniors home in L'Isle-Verte, Quebec, early Thursday, January 23, killing more than a dozen people, police said.
Fire at Quebec seniors home
Fire at Quebec seniors home Fire at Quebec seniors home
Fire sweeps through Quebec elderly home

The fire, reported around 12:35 a.m., destroyed the building. About 20 people escaped -- some were taken to a hospital, and others to a nearby school, she said.

"We hope some of those missing went to family members or something like that and report to us later on," Quebec provincial police Sgt. Audrey-Anne Bilodeau said. "The others are likely still inside the burned building."

Officials were calling residents' relatives to try to determine the whereabouts of the missing.

Emergency personnel worked in temperatures well below freezing. The temperature in nearby Riviere-du-Loup was -22 C (-7 F) at 7 a.m. ET, according to Environment Canada.

Images aired by CBC News, taken by independent photojournalist Francois Drouin, showed massive flames and thick smoke enveloping what was left of the structure.

A man who lives nearby, Pascal Fillion, told CBC News that his roommate woke him up around 1 a.m., and they went outside to see the fire.

"It wasn't a normal house fire, it was like a sheet of paper ... it was so intense," Fillion told CBC News. "

He said he heard screams coming from inside, but firefighters could do little because of the fire's intensity.

"There was one person we saw, who they wanted to save, but he was on the top floor, and with the fire and the wind they weren't able to come any closer," he said.

Residence du Havre served both autonomous seniors and those who required an assisted-living arrangement, according to its website.

Canadian news agency CTV quoted the town's acting mayor, Ginette Caron, as saying just five of the residents were fully autonomous, but most were not able to move around on their own. Some, the mayor said, had Alzheimer's disease.

Lapointe said the cause of the fire wasn't immediately clear. He said he didn't know what kinds of safety measures, such as sprinklers, the complex had.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper thanked firefighters and first responders, who operated in "harsh weather conditions." He also issued condolences to family and friends of the dead.

"I have every confidence in the ability of the authorities to determine how this tragedy occurred and to take the necessary steps to prevent it from occurring again," he said in a statement.

CNN's Hala Gorani and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
ITN's Dan Rivers reports from the hospital where those injured by an attack in Gaza were being treated.
updated 12:47 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Flight attendants are wearing black ribbons to show solidarity with fallen colleagues in "a tribute to those who never made it home."
updated 9:24 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Hamas: "Lift the siege." Israel: "End the rockets." The two sides' demands will be difficult to reconcile.
updated 4:04 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
When the Costa Concordia and its salvage convoy finally depart Giglio, the residents will breathe a sigh of relief -- and shed a tear.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
CNN's Richard Quest speaks to Malaysia Airlines' Hugh Dunleavy about how the airline industry needs to react to MH17.
updated 4:42 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
From Maastricht to Melbourne, and baroque theaters to block-long warehouses, these stores make bookish travelers look stylish.
updated 2:57 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
A nun, an AIDS researcher, an athlete and a family traveling on summer vacation. These were some of the victims aboard MH17.
updated 8:21 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Prince George isn't your average one year old. He started walking before he was one. Oh, and, he's going to be king -- of 16 countries.
updated 2:21 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
In an ambitious plan to upgrade urban India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi says he will build 100 "smart cities" across the country.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
After just one day of competition, a new sport has emerged at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow: snapping selfies with the Queen.