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Burning Death at Capilano Group Home

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Update: Fatality inquiry scheduled for September 14 & 15, 2009

EDMONTON – Rescuers couldn’t reach a woman who cried out for help Thursday, trapped in the basement as flames raged through a group home for people with special needs in the Capilano neighbourhood.

When Lyndon Nemutambwe and Pascal Thaka broke the home’s basement window, they could hear a woman’s voice, but could barely make out her weak cries for help.

“The woman said she wanted to get out, but she couldn’t,” said Nemutambwe, 31

The two men happened to be jogging past the home at 10632 50th St. on Thursday night when they spotted flames.

“We saw people coming out and there was smoke coming out of the house,” Nemutambwe said. “One of the ladies was coming out with a phone, and she said there was somebody in the basement.”

He and Thaka tried to get into the home through the front door, where there was a wheelchair ramp. When they opened the door, they couldn’t see in the darkness.

They turned around and ran to the back of the house, where they broke a basement window. A cloud of smoke rushed out.

“We tried to help,” Thaka said. “But too much smoke.”

Firefighters arrived on scene shortly after 8:20 p.m. The fire crew launched what they call a fast attack, pulling a hose into the basement

in hopes of beating back the flames and reaching the trapped woman, said fire department spokeswoman Nikki Booth.

Three firefighters were in the basement when the fire created a flashover.

Gases inside the home reached 1,100 C and ignited, melting parts of their helmets and radios and charring their visors, Booth said.

“It’s very, very hot, very dark, thick smoke and it flashes,” she said.

The firefighters had to thread the hose back out of the basement and crawl out to safety. All three were sent home shaken but uninjured.

Similar conditions killed two veteran firefighters in Winnipeg in February. A third suffered critical injuries, and another threw himself out a window seconds before the flashover.

Five people were in the group home when the fire started, Booth said. Four escaped safely, and one was taken to hospital.

Booth could not confirm the dead woman’s age or say whether she was disabled.

A group of people, including two in wheelchairs, waited across the street from the house. A young woman in tears was later led away by two men.

The cause of the fire and where in the house it started were not known at press time. Investigators expected to remain on scene well into this morning.

No inquiry has been called.

Adapted from: The Edmonton Journal, April 14, 2007