WINNIPEG — Members of Winnipeg’s gay community are mourning after two people died in a fire at a local bathhouse.
Steven Yablonski, 23, was asleep when fire broke at the Aquarius Men’s Bath around 7 a.m. Sunday, says his father, Robert.
Winnipeg police are trying to confirm the other man’s identity, said spokeswoman Const. Jacqueline Chaput.
Yablonski’s father said investigators told him the blaze appears accidental and may have been caused by careless smoking.
The blaze broke out on the top floor of the two-storey building. Several patrons and employees escaped as the floor filled with smoke.
Customers said it isn’t uncommon for people to go against the rules — and law — by smoking in rooms at Aquarius, a 24-hour co-ed bathhouse that is exclusive to men three nights a week.
Yablonski, who was openly gay, found an outlet for expressing himself and entertaining at Gio’s Club & Bar and Club 200, where he was a drag queen performer.
“It’s quite devastating for our community,” said Bob Rogers, president of Gio’s.
Yablonski’s stage name, Kerri O’Kee, was a play on the word karaoke, an activity he loved, his friends and family said.
On Oct. 17, Yablonski was to take part in a drag queen competition at Gio’s, but the event has been cancelled and a memorial service will be held.
“He was a great kid. He loved performing and he loved being in front of the camera and on stage,” said his dad.
Yablonski was also a board member of the charity Gio’s Cares, which provides support for people with HIV and AIDS.
As a volunteer, he delivered supplies to HIV/AIDS service organizations in Winnipeg, the charity said in written a statement.