Toddler dies in East Vancouver house fire

Probable source of blaze was space heaters next to bed

The mother of twin two-and-half-year-old girls remains in hospital with serious burns and was treated for smoke inhalation after she tried to rescue one of her daughters who perished in a house fire Thursday on the East Side.

Fire Chief John McKearney said the mother was in the kitchen of the rental home at 3124 Nootka St. and had put her twins down for an afternoon nap in separate bedrooms when the fire broke out in one of the rooms.

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“She was able to rescue the one daughter,” the chief told reporters Friday at a news conference at the department’s main fire hall on Heatley Street. “She went in to rescue the other daughter but [the fire] was too far involved.”

firechief
Vancouver Fire Chief John McKearney. Photo Dan Toulgoet

The chief identified the probable source of the fire as two older space heaters placed next to the bed of the toddler who perished. The mother’s school-aged son, who is believed to be a student at Nootka elementary, was also in the house when the fire erupted shortly after 3 p.m. He nor his sister who survived the blaze were seriously injured, McKearney said.

The house is home to two families but only four occupants were home at the time of the fire. The chief said the two-level older home did not have working smoke alarms.

“If this family had a working smoke alarm in there, we would probably not be having the conversation we just did,” said McKearney, who noted smoke alarms are inexpensive and a city requirement in single-family homes.

The chief said investigators are following up with the owner of the house about the lack of a working smoke alarm. A registry check of the property indicates the owners live in Burnaby. No one answered Friday when the Courier called the number listed to the owners’ address on Bainbridge Avenue.

The family’s father was not home at the time of the fire but arrived on scene and had to be held back by police when he tried to get inside the house, according to neighbour Kerry Jang, who is a Vancouver city councillor. Jang said he was with the toddler’s uncle outside the house when the father pulled up in his truck.

“The look on his face was sheer terror,” said Jang, who is married with children. “As a father, and as a parent, your heart just jumps into your throat.”

Jang said he believed the two families were from Central America. A gofundme page created Friday identified the family as the Lemus family. The page includes a photograph of the mother and three children.

“We just saw them playing out in the snow the other day,” said Jang, who described his neighbours as super friendly. “I said ‘hi’ every morning, chatted briefly, saw the kids play, made fun of them, teased them – all this stuff that neighbours do.”

Jang commended the firefighters for arriving on scene quickly and doing their best to get inside the house. Reports of fire crews being delayed by icy streets were false, said the chief, noting the first crew arrived on scene in two minutes and 35 seconds.

A crisis team was  in place Friday at Nootka Elementary school. As of early Friday afternoon, the gofundme campaign has raised $5,125.

“This accident has devastated the family and they have many emotional, spiritual and financial challenges ahead of them,” said a write-up on the page created by Josue David Lemus Moreira. “They may not know what else the future holds but they have placed their trust in God to help them get through this.”

mhowell@vancourier.com

twitter/@Howellings

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