A house fire that forced three residents to flee from a burning building early Friday morning has left a woman dead, a family homeless and a northern Manitoba community in shock.
Officials are still confirming the woman’s identity with an autopsy, but her mother has told CBC News that Tyra Keeper’s body was recovered the day after the fire.
Keith Blacksmith, Keeper’s boyfriend who lived in the home, was severely burned during his escape from the deadly blaze.
At 6:15 a.m. on Friday, Thompson RCMP and Thompson Fire and Emergency Services responded to reports of people trapped inside a burning building on Centennial Drive East in Thompson, Man., police said in a news release issued on Sunday.
The first officer on scene noted flames were coming from the house and smoke was billowing out of the windows, an RCMP spokesperson said in an email.
Catherine Swain-Vinci was devastated when her son called her that morning to say their house had burst into flames and most of the occupants had been rescued or escaped, but her daughter was missing.
“It was so intense, the smoke, the heat,” she said witnesses told her. Her husband, who also lived there, had to bust a window and jump out to escape.
The 61-year-old man then helped officers and neighbours rescue his 89-year-old mother from the fiery house, Swain-Vinci said.
A 21-year-old man who fled through the flames was taken to hospital in critical condition with very serious injuries. His mother Cheryl Blacksmith has confirmed that’s her son, Keith.
“But we didn’t know where Tyra was,” said Swain-Vinci.
A 20-year-old woman was unaccounted for following the fire, RCMP said. It wasn’t safe for police and fire crews to enter the building on Friday, but on Saturday, the body of a female was located inside the home.
Swain-Vinci was in the community of Split Lake, Man., for work when the fire broke out. She doesn’t know what, how or why it happened.
“It was a strange fire,” she said. “The whole floor collapsed. This fire was not a normal house fire. And you can smell it.”
She said residents have alerted her to bizarre fumes in the air.
The Office of the Fire Commissioner and Thompson RCMP are continuing to investigate the house fire.
Fire leaves mourning family homeless
Northern Manitoba communities surrounding Thompson are shaken by the tragedy.
Keeper, who was a member of Tataskweyak Cree Nation in Split Lake, had spent most of her life in Thompson, Swain-Vinci said.
“It’s a big impact,” said Swain-Vinci, who raised Keeper since she was born. “I didn’t realize how much of an impact Tyra had in her life with people because of the loving, kind, smiley, energetic young lady that she was.”
Swain-Vinci said the home and all of the family’s belongings there are ruined, including photos of her late husband. Her family, including Swain-Vinci and her husband, his mother, her son and her late daughter’s boyfriend have no place to live.
“It’s all gone. They have to start from scratch,” she said.
Swain-Vinci visited Keeper’s boyfriend and her family members at the hospital. Her husband and mother-in-law are recovering okay, she said.
Junior hockey player healing in hospital
Keeper and Keith Blacksmith, her boyfriend, graduated from high school together in June.
He was captain of the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation Flames junior hockey team. Keeper was the team’s biggest fan, her mother said.
Cheryl Blacksmith, Keith’s mom, said she almost fainted when she found out about her son’s escape. “I didn’t believe that he ran through the fire to try to get out of there. And he almost didn’t make it.”
His condition has been upgraded to stable. A hockey player since age three, his future on the ice remains uncertain.
“Depending on his condition when he heals, we’re not sure that he’s ever going to be able to play sports again,” his mother said. She was told her son will remain in an induced coma for one to two weeks due to the severe burns. His body is bound by gauze.
“I really don’t want him to feel that pain when he wakes up,” she said.
Community members have been sharing supportive and encouraging thoughts to the affected families and friends on social media.
Fire investigation ongoing
Four RCMP officers were treated for smoke inhalation that occurred during rescue efforts.
“The RCMP would like to acknowledge the brave and selfless community members who rushed towards the burning home within the first few minutes to aid those in danger,” reads the police release.
No details were available about the cause of the fire.
Thompson’s fire chief declined to comment while an investigation was underway.