Three people under the age of 18 died in an early morning house fire in a northern Manitoba First Nation on Saturday, the chief said.
Four other residents were able to escape the fatal blaze.
Chief David Monias of Pimicikamak, also known as Cross Lake Cree Nation, said he received a call about the house fire before 6 a.m.
“It’s still very difficult to speak about it. It hits really hard,” he told CBC News. “We all feel it. It’s very sombre.”
Monias didn’t confirm the ages or names of the people who died out of respect for their family.
“We need to give them time to grieve and mourn their loss. All we can do is be there to support them,” he said.
Monias says RCMP and the Office of the Fire Commissioner are investigating the fatal blaze.
In a news release issued Sunday, the Mounties say they were called to the fire just before 5 a.m. but when they arrived, the house was fully engulfed in flames and they couldn’t enter.
First Nation safety officers, who were first on scene, had already tried to enter the home through a window but were turned back because of the extreme heat.
Police say seven people were in the house when the fire started, but four of the residents — a man, 36, a woman, 36, a woman, 20, and a four-year-old girl were able to escape through a window.
All suffered various injuries due to the fire and received medical attention.
The three deceased were found inside after the Cross Lake Fire Department extinguished the blaze.
Supporting the family, community
Monias says councillors have been assigned to support the family, and a crisis team has been requested to assist family and friends who need counselling.
Community wellness and mental health resources are also available to other community members.
First Nations people living on reserve are 10 times more likely to die in a fire than non-Indigenous people, according to a new Statistics Canada study, commissioned by the National Indigenous Fire Safety Council.
That’s in part because of a lack of housing and overcrowding that’s been an issue since long before the pandemic.
“Housing is a big issue in every First Nation, and the cost of these resources to build a house is horrendous that we feel as if we’re being held hostage to accept what we’re given and the prices we’re given,” Monias said.
“Housing is a human right, and for us, it’s a treaty right. We need to ensure that every home that families are placed in is safe, and to make sure that we have the appropriate resources to take care of those homes.”
In another development, Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs offered his condolences to the community on the “sudden and tragic loss.”
“We offer our thoughts and prayers to everyone grieving at this time. Please know our hearts are with each and everyone one of you,” he said in a post on social media.