TORONTO — A raging fire that ripped through an east-Toronto home killed four people, injured several others and left area residents struggling to come to terms with the deaths of their neighbours on Friday.
The blaze began around 4:30 a.m. and had engulfed the second floor of the home by the time fire crews arrived, authorities said. Five people were taken from the house while a sixth person was able to escape.
Neighbours cried as they watched smoke billow from the scorched residence on Friday afternoon while firefighters worked to douse hot spots.
"We're a really tight neighbourhood, everyone knows everyone," said Deborah Bies, who lives down the street. "This is going to be beyond devastating. This is going to take a long time to heal, if it ever does."
Bies said a grandmother, her daughter and her grandson were among those who lived in the home.
The family loved to sit on their front porch, watching their little boy play, she said. Bies said she babysat the six-year-old boy and felt a connection with his mother.
"She's a mom in the neighbourhood, we're both single moms," Bies said.
Friday morning's fire, which broke out amid frigid temperatures, also forced the evacuation of several nearby homes.
Magdalena Dion, who lives two doors down, was one of the people who had to get out fast.
"Everybody out, out, out!" she recalled one of the firefighters yelling as he banged on her door.
"It's terrible, it's terrible," she said through tears, adding that she saw paramedics working on a woman as they put her in an ambulance.
"They tried to save her, they tried," Dion said.
Vivien de Boerr also had to rush out of her home.
She said she woke up around 4 a.m. smelling burnt plastic.
"I thought it was my heater," she said.
Then there were bangs at the door.
"Fire, fire, fire!" a man with no shoes or jacket yelled, De Boerr said, recalling that she grabbed her extinguisher and went outside.
Once on the street, she said she saw the home three doors down aflame. A wire dangling from the home shot out sparks, she said.
"It was sparking hard," she said. "There were flames moving up the wire to the house."
Embers drifted over to other homes and De Boerr used her extinguisher to douse those flames.
The roof of the house next to the family's home was also destroyed.
Janet Guignard said the matriarch of the family in the home that caught fire often exercised in the neighbourhood, using her walker to zip around.
"She kept to herself, but liked to get out and she liked to have a glass of wine at New Town restaurant, back when we could do that," Guignard said.
Several firefighters were injured battling the blaze, said deputy fire chief Jim Jessop.
One firefighter fell through a floor and another was hurt by flames while searching the second floor of the home, he said.
Fire crews and evacuees also had to contend with the "horrendous weather," Jessop said.
"It makes an already difficult situation and circumstance even more challenging," he said.
"We're always battling slips, trips and falls, and of course for the firefighters in the course of search and rescue and fire suppression ... they're wet to the core and then immediately they're freezing."
Jessop said the firefighters who were injured while battling Friday's blaze had all been treated.
"They're not significant injuries," he said. "They'll be back to work eventually."
An investigation into the blaze will be carried out by Toronto's police and fire services as well as Ontario's fire marshal.
Jason Williams, an investigator with the Ontario fire marshal, said it would take days to figure out how the fatal fire started.
He added that the extreme cold would make it more difficult for him and his team to discern the fire's origin.
"We're going to be arranging for some heating and to actually board up the home to keep the temperature elevated to assist with the scene examination over the next several days," said Williams.
He explained that keeping the site warm is necessary because if the water used to extinguish the fire freezes, it makes it more difficult for investigators to examine the building.
As of Jan. 18, Ontario had seen 14 fire-related deaths in 2021.
Last year, the province recorded 114 fire deaths, compared to an average of about 84 between 2009 and 2018, according to data from the fire marshal.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2021.
Liam Casey and John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press