Death toll rises in Quebec nursing home blaze; officials question sprinkler laws

The search for victims continues at the Résidence du Havre senior residence in Isle-Verte, Ontario, following a Jan. 23 blaze that destroyed the facility. As of Monday, Toronto news sources have reported 14 dead and at least 18 still unaccounted for.

The weekend’s arctic wind chills of –30 F hampered the search for victims at the site, sections of which are now locked in 24 inches of ice.

Various Canadian newspaper sources have reported that a resident’s cigarette may have contributed to the blaze, but police say the cause of the fire may not be determined for weeks. Authorities continue to investigate, while the small town, located above Maine’s northernmost point, mourns the loss of loved ones.

Most nursing homes in Ontario Province that were built after 1998 have fire sprinklers and other safety protocols installed, but many older facilities do not. A May 2013 rule issued by the Canadian Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services has mandated sprinkler installation in all licensed retirement homes within the next five years, notes an article in the Toronto Sun. However, some elder care facilities have been given an 11-year phase-in period to comply, the Toronto Sun article adds.

The tragedy has prompted new discussions about the fire sprinkler laws and building codes for senior facilities. “We’re living with buildings that were built 15, 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago, and we need to implement fire security regulations,” Minister Réjean Hébert, who oversees senior residences, told the Toronto Sun. Parts of the Résidence du Havre facility were reportedly built in 2002 and had fire sprinklers and a concrete firewall installed, while older parts of the facility, reportedly built in 1997, were completely destroyed, a separate Jan. 24 Toronto Sun article reports. 

On Sunday, Quebec’s Premier Pauline Marois met with officials and families at the site, saying she would await the official report on the blaze and then would consider if the in-progress mandates for sprinkler systems compliance should be ramped up sooner, according to a (Sault Saint Marie, Ontario) SaultStar article.

The Canadian Public Safety Ministry will participate in making recommendations to improve standards in the wake of the blaze.

Related news story: CMS offers temporary fire sprinkler citation fix

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