Above: The son of one of the victims of the L’Isle-Verte fire tells Mike Armstrong how he rushed to try to save his mother.
MONTREAL – One of the most moving stories of heroism and grief from L’Isle Verte may be that of Jean-Eudes Fraser, who tried to rescue his mother from the fire that raged through a seniors’ home in the village on Thursday.
“I don’t live far away, so when my mom asks for something, it’s me who goes,” he told Global News’ Mike Armstrong.
Just after midnight on Thursday, he received a phone call from his mother, Angéline Guichard, that no son ever wants to get.
“Just after 12:36 a.m., my phone rang. In the middle of the night, it’s rare. I saw that it was my mother’s number.”
“She said, ‘Quick, quick, come quick. There’s a fire.'”
She asked her son to bring a ladder and some clothing because she was trapped on her third-floor balcony.
It was freezing, with temperatures well below -20° C. His mother found it hard to move around and relied on a walker.
“I grabbed clothes for her, a coat, a toque, and put the ladder in the car. In four or five minutes I was there.”
Fraser arrived to a terrifying scene: smoke was pouring out of the seniors’ residence where his 88-year-old mother had been living for the past seven or eight years.
IN PICTURES: Massive fire destroys Quebec seniors home
“There were no police, no firefighters and smoke was coming out of the building.”
Unfortunately, the ladder wouldn’t extend all the way to the third-floor balcony where his mother was waiting, it would only reach to the second floor. This didn’t stop Fraser, who managed to climb up to his mother by hoisting himself on the balcony railings.
“I helped her to get dressed,” he said. “I didn’t think about how I was going to get her down. I didn’t have anything with me.”
“The smoke came from everywhere.”
They waited together for the firefighters, who he hoped would come soon with a ladder. But time was not on their side.
“We saw the flames now,” Fraser said. “I called out to people below: ‘We’re here. Bring a ladder. Bring the firemen. Hurry, I’m here with my mom. Bring us something to help us get down.'”
The smoke was so dense, that Fraser and his mother could see nothing and even breathing was becoming an issue.
“The smoke came from everywhere. We were trying to breathe, trying to find a space. My mother was glued to my side, but I couldn’t see her. There was so much smoke.”
“My mother said, ‘It’s finished. We’re going to die here. They’ll be too late.'”
It was this point that Fraser made a decision to try to save them both by going back down to try to get help.
“It didn’t make any sense. It couldn’t end like this. I told her, ‘Wait here. We’ll come back and find you.'”
He recalled that she didn’t respond. She was no longer conscious.
Fraser couldn’t see anything as he felt his way along the railings, certainly not the ladder, a storey below him.
He came down to the ground by sliding down a pole that attached the balcony railings.
He went home and called a friend, returning with a longer ladder.
But in a space of what felt to Fraser like five minutes, the building was completely engulfed by flames.
“We put the ladder up anyway. My friend warned me, but I said, ‘No, no, my mom is there. I have to find her.”
Fraser began to climb the ladder. Halfway up, a flaming piece of electric wire swung past him.
“I continued to climb anyway, until I reached her.”
But when Fraser arrived at the third-floor balcony, his mother was lying on the balcony, dead.
“If I had stayed another 15 seconds longer, I would have been finished,” he said.
When he returned to the ground, the building burnt very quickly. “It all fell, with my mother in it.”
Fraser was transferred to hospital in Trois-Pistoles to be treated for smoke inhalation.
The fact that he survived is little comfort to this son who tried so hard to save his mother’s life.
“It’s always on my mind. The scene replays over and over in my head. It’s not easy.”
“To abandon my mother there, c’est la vie ou la mort.”
– With files from Mike Armstrong