OSHAWA, Ont. — The sound of a blast followed by frantic cries for help rang out Monday morning as a fire tore through a home, claiming the lives of two adults and two children east of Toronto.
A man, a woman, a boy and a girl died in the blaze in Oshawa, Ont., the city’s fire chief said, and three other people in the house that was divided into apartments were taken to hospital with injuries.
“This is a tragic event,” said Fire Chief Derrick Clark. “I want to offer my sincere condolences to the families, all the families involved in this.”
Laura Green, who could see the burned home from her backyard, said she was outside smoking with her husband when the fire broke out.
“We heard a big bang and … saw a flash and people coming out of the house screaming ‘fire’ in a total panic,” Green said. “We saw the whole thing go up in flames. It was horrific.”
Green said she is on friendly terms with a couple — a boyfriend and girlfriend — who live in the back of the burned home. She was not sure if either was harmed in the blaze.
“I know that (the boyfriend) ran in when one of his friends was screaming, ‘my child,’” Green said. “I don’t know if he came back out.”
A woman working at a nearby convenience store, CW FoodMart, said when she got to work, the home two doors down was on fire with smoke billowing out and flames shooting through the top floor.
She said residents of the home often shopped at the store, including two children and their mother.
“It’s very sad, very sad,” said Elena, who didn’t want to provide her last name.
The names of those killed in the fire aren’t being released until police have confirmed their identities with next-of-kin.
The blaze was reported a little after 8 a.m. and firefighters arrived to find heavy smoke and flames that had to be fought from the outside before crews could attempt to rescue those trapped inside.
At one point, fire crews had to pull back as conditions worsened before regrouping and resuming their search and rescue efforts, Clark said.
“The firefighters made several heroic attempts to get in and get to the upper levels and they were pushed back,” Clark said. “They fought their way up through intense heat and smoke conditions … and after retreating, they forced their way back in again.”
Firefighters were ultimately only able to pull one person, the boy, out of the flaming house, but he was pronounced dead at hospital, Clark said. The bodies of the others killed in the fire remained in the home Monday afternoon.
Clark also noted that the blaze broke out in the middle of a significant snowfall.
“This fire was at the height the snow storm this morning,” he said. “Very difficult conditions, both for crews driving en route here as well as fighting this fire.”
The brown brick house, officially classified as having two storeys plus a loft, was divided into a number of apartments, Clark said.
About a one-block area around the house was cordoned off with yellow tape, as fire officials examined the site. Large rectangular holes could be seen in the roof of the house. Several windows at the front, side and back of the house were completely knocked out and black, scorched interior walls could be seen from outside.
Clark said he could not confirm whether there had been an explosion at the house, but said there was speculation that the blast heard could have been related to windows blowing out during the fire.
“The windows letting go and oxygen entering the atmosphere could have produced that similar type of sound as an explosion,” he said.
The cause of the fire wasn’t yet known, but damage was most extensive at the rear of the building, Clark said. Whether the home had working smoke detectors would be part of the investigation into the blaze, he added.
“We don’t have any information yet on cause or determination of how this fire got going,” Clark said. ”That will be part of the investigation over the next three or four days.”
Ontario’s Office of the Fire Marshal will be working with local officials to investigate the blaze.