At least 7 people are missing after a major fire broke out at a historic building in Old Montreal

At least seven people are missing and may still be in the rubble after a major fire that raged through a historic building in Old Montreal on Thursday morning, emergency officials said Saturday.

At a brief news conference late Saturday night, Montreal Fire Chief Martin Guilbault said crews would begin dismantling portions of the building on Sunday so investigators could continue their search and determine a cause of the fire.

Investigators initially said one person was missing after the fire. But at an earlier news conference on Saturday, Guilbault said information recently confirmed from various sources led them to conclude more people were trapped inside when the fire broke out before 6am Thursday.

One of those people is 18-year-old Charlie Lacroix, according to her grandfather, who spoke to reporters at the scene on Saturday.

“She was a happy little girl – beautiful and happy,” said Robert Lacas through tears.

He said all he knows so far about what happened to his granddaughter is what a police source told him.

“[Police] got an initial call from my little daughter who said, ‘come and get us because where we are there are no windows, we can’t get out and the fire is burning,'” Lacas said.

He said three minutes later police received another call from Lacroix saying the same thing. “And then the phone broke off,” he said, bursting into tears.

Rowan Kennedy/CBC

Rowan Kennedy/CBC

Lacas is now calling for an investigation into the security of the building. “It’s not normal for a person to have an apartment where there is no access other than the door,” he said. “It’s illegal…you have to have two places to escape to.”

Police have not confirmed Lacas’ statements and will not confirm the names of the missing out of respect for their families, a Montreal police spokesman said.

Police are encouraging anyone looking for a missing person who may have been in the building to contact them at 514.280-2222 or to a local police station.

Firefighters are still unable to enter the building

Nine people, three of them seriously injured, were taken to the hospital on Thursday. Two more are being treated in the burns department on Saturday.

Alina Kuzmina and her spouse were asleep in one of the Airbnb rental units in the building when they were awakened at around 5:30 a.m. by what she describes as the sound of an explosion.

“We started seeing the orange flames and light under the door and the sound of fire crackling, so it was pretty clear there was a fire right outside,” she said.

The couple, originally from Cornwall, Ontario, quickly gathered what they could and, being in a basement unit, were able to smash a window and crawl through, escaping with only minor injuries.

Simon-Marc Charron/Radio Canada

Simon-Marc Charron/Radio Canada

Once on the street, Kuzmina remembers chaos.

“I saw a guy who just fell off the second floor. I think he just threw himself out the window [while] trying to escape the fire,” she said.

Kuzmina said the most alarming part of the experience was that neither of the two fire alarms in her unit went off, forcing her and her husband to wake up to the flames themselves.

“This is nightmare material, so my frustration is with how this building is being managed,” she said.

Police said Saturday the case was turned over to the Montreal Police Arson Squad on Friday night.

Arson squad commander Steve Belzil said he could not provide any information about the identity of the missing, including whether they were residents of the building or people who had rented a room there through Airbnb, for example.

Firefighters have yet to safely enter the three-story, 15-unit building at the intersection of Place d’Youville and Saint-Nicolas Street to investigate.

The authorities are therefore unable to determine the cause of the fire.

“[The case] was transferred [to the police’s arson department] because we have reason to believe that there are victims, dead people,” Belzil explained.

Simon-Marc Charron/Radio Canada

Simon-Marc Charron/Radio Canada

This weekend, specialists will help the fire service prepare how to enter the building to investigate the origins of the fire and search for those still missing “while trying to preserve the historic building,” it said Guilbault.

Emergency officials say it could take several days or even weeks to determine the cause of the fire.

In a tweet, Alain Vaillancourt, a member of Montreal’s executive committee responsible for public safety, said these were “extremely difficult times” and his heart goes out to the families of the missing.


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