Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Nearly a week after fatal Quebec fire, grim task of ‘finding all the bodies’ remains

A firefighter sprays hot water while working on the site of the Residence du Havre in L'Isle Verte, Quebec, January 28, 2014.

MATHIEU BELANGER/Reuters

At the edge of the burned-out wreckage of the Résidence du Havre, investigators crouch on their hands and knees, carefully sifting through the debris of the Quebec seniors' home.

Their job is to alert the coroners' office and a forensic team at the first sign of human remains. Less relevant items are pushed aside and raked, shovelled or carried to one of several piles surrounding the building.

Reporters in L'Isle-Verte got a first look at the site of the investigation on Tuesday, nearly a week after a massive fire ripped through the seniors' residence in the early hours of the morning. Police say 17 people are confirmed dead and 15 are unaccounted for as officials continue to comb through the icy wreckage.

Story continues below advertisement

About 50 firefighters, police officers and investigators from the coroners' office are working 10 to 12 hours a day, said Martine Asselin, a spokeswoman for the Quebec provincial police. The same workers are coming back each day to ensure continuity, she said.

"It's very precise work that they need to do," she said. "Going through everything that was in the room. ... We saw some freezers, we saw some washing machines. So every room has a lot of articles that we need to go through."

Officials brought specialized equipment last week to help melt the thick ice on the burned-out building. They have covered much of the area with tarps and are pumping warm vapour beneath the plastic. Steam rises from beneath the billowing white and blue tarps, and the smell of ashes is still in the air.

Recovery workers have made it through 60 to 75 per cent of the wreckage, Sergeant Asselin said. She could not say how long the search will take.

The blaze destroyed only the older section of the building. A newer wing, built in 2002 and outfitted with sprinklers and a protective wall to prevent fires from spreading, still stands. A brick wall between the two wings is streaked with soot. Fire-proof doors connecting the two sides of the building are visible on the first and second floors.

The eastern Quebec town was hit hard by the fire, which affected nearly everyone in the tightly knit community of less than 1,500 people. Many residents lost several friends and family members.

Shortly after the fire, police erected opaque fencing around the building, obstructing the view of the recovery efforts. Officials also set up a wider perimeter that residents and reporters were not allowed to access and closed off the road that leads to the building entrance.

Story continues below advertisement

Sergeant Asselin said morale on the site has been good, despite the bitter cold temperatures, freezing winds and the grim work.

"Everyone has the same goal: finding all of the bodies," she said.

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Kim Mackrael has been a reporter for The Globe and Mail since 2011. She joined the Ottawa bureau Sept. 2012. More

Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.