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Child dead, hundreds evacuated after Brampton townhouse fire

Residents forced from their homes by a massive townhouse complex fire console each other in a makeshift food and clothing distribution centre setup at the "The Journey" outreach centre in a plaze in Brampton on June 8.

J.P. Moczulsk/The Globe and Mail

A 10-year-old boy who at a sleepover was killed after a fast-moving fire engulfed a townhouse complex in Brampton, Ont., on Sunday, leaving up to 100 people homeless.

The fire began around 3 a.m. in one townhome and "very quickly spread to other units," said Peel Regional Police Constable Lilly Fitzpatrick.

"It was quite an intense flame, quite an intense fire. Lots of smoke," she said.

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The boy has been identified by community members as Nicolas Gabriel. He lived in the complex on Ardglen Drive near Kennedy Road South and Queen Street East but was at another unit for a sleepover. That unit, number 59, was most heavily damaged by the blaze.

"I was told he was the most beautiful boy who loved his friends," said Pastor Jamie Holtom of Bramalea United Church. "He was a great kid."

Mr. Holtom, who said Nicolas was part of a community homework club, said the boy's family is devastated.

"They're in shock…They've got a great group of friends and family that are supporting them, but I'd be lying if I said it was anything but really hard."

Nicolas attended the nearby Sir Winston Churchill Public School, said Natasha Carreiro, who works in the homework club at The Journey community centre and as a lunch supervisor at the school.

The boy's family was among the 200 to 300 people evacuated from their homes as a safety precaution. Amid the confusion, they believed Nicolas had escaped, police said.

"I think they thought at some point that he had just gotten confused or was going to be at one of the other areas," Constable Fitzpatrick said. "Unfortunately, we were not able to locate him."

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Firefighters later discovered his body.

Residents of the low-income townhouse complex complained that it was in a state of disrepair. Wendy Gibson, 33 year-old mother on maternity leave who used to live in unit 59, said the fire alarms weren't adequate.

"I was hearing people talking – they couldn't even hear the fire alarms at their house," she said. "They should be inside every house, and they don't take care of this place."

The death marks the second time in the past 18 months that a child has died in the complex. Kesean Williams, 9, was killed when a bullet pierced his living room window in January, 2013. Police are still investigating.

"It's just tragic," Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell told CP24.

Constable Fitzpatrick said 18 units had been "extensively damaged by the fire," leaving 80 to 100 people homeless.

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It may take a day or two before people whose townhouses were not damaged can return home, Constable Fitzpatrick said. Several community agencies have rallied to help displaced residents.

"Some people are here in bathrobes and pyjamas," she said. "We're lucky that the weather is co-operating."

The fire marshal's office is investigating the cause of the blaze.

The people in units 57 and 61 will be able to eventually go back to their homes when power and gas are restored, said Alain Normand, emergency measures manager for the city of Brampton.

"Police have been escorting them back to their homes to get clothing, medication, essential needs. Once power and gas are back, they'll be able to return to their home, most likely later this evening."

Out of the 18 homes in Unit 59, five were gutted, he said, meaning those families have "most likely lost everything."

Donations for Nicolas's family are being accepted at www.regenbrampton.com.

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