UPDATE: On Dec. 24, 2019, RCMP issued a news release in which they said the Dec. 5 fire in Rochfort Bridge has been deemed accidental by the Office of the Fire Commissioners. Police said no further information about the case would be made public.
Two adults and three children were found dead inside a home following a fire in a small hamlet northwest of Edmonton on Thursday.
At around 4 p.m., Mayerthorpe RCMP and Lac Ste. Anne County fire crews were called to a residential fire in the community of Rochfort Bridge, a hamlet about 115 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.
At around 1:30 a.m. on Friday, RCMP said they were notified by fire crews that one person was found dead inside the home.
Once the fire was extinguished at around 9 a.m., emergency crews were able to do a more extensive search of the home and found four more people dead, police said in a media release Friday afternoon.
RCMP said there are no indications the fire is criminal.
Michelle Trudzik, who works at the Rochfort Bridge Trading Post, told Global News the home that burned down was across the street from her so she learned about the fire right away.
According to Trudzik, a man lived there with his wife and three kids. She said the children were the wife’s grandkids.
Trudzik identified the man who lived in the house as Marvin Gibbs but said she would leave it up to his family to decide when or if other family members would be identified.
Trudzik said the community of 100 to 150 people is very “close-knit” and the news has been devastating.
“Everyone is very shaken,” she said.
Trudzik said she called one of the man’s other daughters who does not live in the home to tell her about the fire and that she came to the community and has been staying with her.
The house was destroyed by the blaze. RCMP said no others homes were damaged.
Cpl. Greg Anderson with Mayerthorpe RCMP said provincial investigators from the office of the fire commissioner are still investigating and he hopes they may be able to file a report about what happened early next week.
“We haven’t received their full report on it, but at this point in time we can say that we have ruled out any suspicion,” he said.
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When asked about why there were several hours between the discovery of the first body and the others, he said there were a number of factors that could have been at play.
“Based on how is the fire burning and is it safe for firefighters to enter… upon arriving at the scene initially, the residence was fully involved,” Anderson said. “Obviously there can be a lot of factors when it comes to extinguishing a fire — what’s inside. What’s our fuel load inside.
“I know it was late in the evening on Dec. 5, they had already indicated that they may have to bring in some excavating equipment so that they could gain access to the building and basically move some stuff around to assist in extinguishing the fire.”
Anderson said the home was older and had a partial second storey or attic space in it. He described the fire as a tragic incident and said all of the victims have not yet been positively identified.
“I do feel that this is going to have an effect on the community,” he said. “We have brought in our victim services unit if anybody requires assistance and this is also for the family, any of the community.
“As emergency services, this does affect our personnel as well… having to deal with such a situation as this, we are going to be doing some debriefings… make sure that they are moving along a path of mental health.”
Anderson said he also wanted to remind Albertans about being vigilant about preventing fires, especially during the holiday season.
“Let’s just make sure that our Christmas lights, sitting by the fire in the living room — and so on and so forth — is kept safe and that we’re doing our due diligence to make sure that we prevent any type of incidents throughout the holiday season.”
Joe Blakeman, the reeve of Lac Ste. Anne County, said Saturday that the community is shaken by the tragedy.
“When you lose any life, it’s a tragedy. But when you lose any lives that haven’t had a chance to live, basically at all, it’s even worse.
“When there’s children involved, it just hits home a little bit harder.”
Blakeman added that the first responders from the community have taken time off following the incident.
“We want to make sure that our first responders are looked after, because this can definitely become a mental health issue down the road.”