A woman and her teenage son are confirmed dead after a fire destroyed a home in a hamlet west of Edmonton, RCMP said Wednesday.
The duplex, shared by several members of a single family, was gutted in an early-morning blaze Tuesday in Evansburg, Alta.
The remains of the 50-year-old woman and her 16-year-old son were recovered during a forensic search Wednesday afternoon, RCMP said in a press release. It's believed they were unable to escape before flames engulfed the house, RCMP said.
An officer patrolling the area spotted the flames around 3 a.m. Tuesday.
Two elderly relatives who lived in the other duplex unit escaped without injury.
Recovery efforts were delayed by winter conditions and severe structural damage, RCMP said.
'There is a lot of damage'
It took firefighters six hours to douse the flames, RCMP Cpl. Deanna Fontaine said Wednesday.
The basement of the home filled up with water and the structure of the home collapsed, she said.
"There is a lot of damage," Fontaine said. "The roof collapsed. The walls caved in."
RCMP and fire investigators remained at the scene overnight and into Wednesday morning but work was halted due to ice and darkness.
What remained of the home had to be covered with tarps in an attempt to keep it from freezing.
"They had to seal it up last night," Fontaine said. "Heavy equipment is being used to remove large debris ... in order to continue to search inside the structure. And a lot of water has to be removed."
Crews resumed recovery efforts at first light Wednesday.
Fontaine said RCMP have been in regular contact with the Han family, who lived in the building that burned.
"It's just tragic," she said. "Our heart goes out to this family. It's a very tragic incident we're dealing with here."
The Han family has run a local grocery store, Evansburg Family Foods, for years.
A memorial of cards, flowers and stuffed animals was set up in front of the store Wednesday morning.
Mary Finch helped spearhead plans for the vigil and launch a fundraiser for the family. As of Wednesday morning, the GoFundMe page had raised more than $20,000.
Finch spent distributed donation jars to local businesses on Wednesday morning and has begun collecting clothing and furniture for the family.
She lives nearby and has been a faithful customer at the grocery store for years.
"I feel for them because they are such hard, hard workers, and I would do anything for them, because they did as much as they could for me, and for all of us," Finch said in an interview Tuesday night.
"Everybody knows them around here. It's a local family — it's not a community, it's a local family. It's a big loss."
'A big part of the community'
Braden Kalin, a Grade 10 student at Grand Trunk High School, said he has known the teenage boy since they were children.
They were classmates and played hockey together. Kalin said he found out about the fire from other students at the school.
"He's so nice and just one of the best students in the class," he said. "He was always so positive."
"It's scary thinking something like that can happen so easily. It's just not good. It's scary."
Tristan Norman, also a student at Grand Trunk, said the family is well known and well liked.
"They were a big part of the community," he said. "They were always trying to help wherever they could."
Norman said his concern for his friend continues to grow. He now fears the worst.
"I was just hoping and hoping that he was OK."
"It's just so sad," he said. "It could have happened to anybody."
Evansburg is 100 kilometres west of Edmonton.