By The Canadian Press
THOMPSON, Man. — First Nations communities and leaders in northern Manitoba are in mourning after four children died in a house fire Wednesday night.
Officers and emergency responders arrived to find the home in Thompson engulfed in flames, RCMP said in a news release.
“This is a heartbreaking tragedy that will have a lasting impact on so many within Thompson and throughout the entire province,” Assistant Commissioner Rob Hill, commanding officer of the Manitoba RCMP, said Thursday.
Mounties said two adults made it out of the basement, a 13-year-old girl climbed out a second-floor window, and firefighters were told there were still four children inside.
After the fire was brought under control, firefighters entered the building and found four children between the ages of four and 10.
The children were taken to hospital and died, RCMP said.
Thompson Mayor Colleen Smook said she was devastated to learn about the deaths.
“Absolute sick to my stomach. I have grandchildren the (same) ages of all those children … you can’t even imagine. It’s just sickness comes over you,” she said in an interview.
The city has a population of just over 13,000 people and is a fairly tight-knit community, said Smook.
Everyone from RCMP officers to hospital staff to the community school will feel the impact of these deaths, she added.
“So many people are going to be affected by this.”
The leader of the advocacy group that represents 26northern First Nations said the family has ties to two communities in the region.
Grand Chief Garrison Settee, of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, first heard the news from the chief of Pimicikamak Cree Nation, one of the communities affected.
Settee, who is from the community, doesn’t know the family personally but said it hit close to home.
“(I’m) really shocked that this tragedy happened to four children. It will take a long time for everyone to come to terms. We need to support the families,” he said in an interview.
“Asking people to think of them and send up some prayers on their behalf.”
Right now, families need mental, emotional and spiritual support, said Settee.
The organization said its mobile crisis response team will be offering support to community members, as well as working with the school the children attended to help students mourning their peers.
Smook said the city is committed to offering support to the survivors and families and will connect with the First Nation communities on next steps.
Eric Redhead, a New Democrat who represents the Thompson area in the Manitoba legislature, left Winnipeg immediately after question period to catch a flight home.
“These are four young children who have lost their lives to a preventable tragedy, and as a father myself, I can’t even fathom that,” he said.
The Thompson Professional Firefighters Association also addressed Wednesday’s fatal fire in a social media post.
“It is difficult to find the words … our thoughts, prayers and love go to the family and friends of the departed during this devastating time,” the organization said.
Investigators have not determined the cause of the fire.
Smook has lived in the city for more than five decades and said fatal fires are a rare occurrence.
— By Brittany Hobson in Winnipeg with files from Steve Lambert