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Smoker May Have Caused Retirement Home Fire; Dozens Still Missing

Smoke rises from the burned remains of a retirement home in L'Isle-Verte on Friday.
AFP/Getty Images
Smoke rises from the burned remains of a retirement home in L'Isle-Verte on Friday.

The Toronto Sun reports Saturday that an employee at the Residence du Havre retirement home that caught fire on Thursday, killing at least eight people and leaving about a dozen unaccounted for, says he's "95 percent sure" that the cause of the blaze was a cigarette.

The newspaper quotes Bruno Belanger, an orderly at the home in L'Isle Verte, Quebec, as saying that less than an hour before the fire alarm went off, he had prevented a resident from going outside to smoke a cigarette:

"He said residents are not allowed out after 11 p.m. because the doors are locked from the outside."

"Also concerned about the bitter cold, Belanger said he asked the elderly man to return to his room and wait until morning to have his smoke."

"The orderly said he went to check on the man in his room a few minutes later, just to make sure, then went to the kitchen to prepare the next day's lunch."

The deadly blaze began just after midnight, officials say.

The CBC reports that while "[the] cause of the deadly blaze has not been official determined, ... police sources told Radio-Canada Friday that the fire originated in one of the resident`s rooms."

Meanwhile, the search for bodies continues. The Associated Press reports: "[the] painstaking search through the iced-over remains" of the retirement home resumed on Saturday morning, with crews using steam in an effort to melt through the thick blocks of ice.

"I think we can all agree here today, that the 24 people that are still missing - I think we can assume the worst, but you have to understand that we're not going to confirm any deaths until we've actually recovered the remains," police spokesman Lt. Guy Lapointe said in a news conference Saturday morning in L'Isle-Verte.

According to the AP:

"Search teams of police, firefighters and coroners slowly and methodically picked their way through, working in shifts in the extreme cold about 140 miles (225 kilometers) northeast of Quebec City. The afternoon temperature was around 3 degrees F (minus 16 Celsius.)."

The CBC says that emergency crews stood down for the first time Friday night.

"The conditions are very, very difficult," Lapointe was quoted by the CBC as saying. "Our people are exhausted."

The Canadian broadcaster spoke with Alphonse Gagnon and his wife Yvette Michaud, who live in a home facing the Residence du Havre and said they know many of the residents.

"A visibly shaken Gagnon said he noticed a glow coming through the partially closed blinds early Thursday morning and screamed for his wife to get up."

"'It was hard to look at. Everything was on fire ... I can't even talk about it,' he said, trying to hold back tears."

"Michaud sobbed as she described watching the residence go up in flames. She said she was terrified the raging fire was going to spread to their home."

"'I said to my husband, "We're done for. We're done for. We're going to burn. We're going to die. We're going to die, too."'"

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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