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Oshawa, Ont., rowhouse fire leaves four people unaccounted for

OSHAWA, Ont. — A fast-moving fire that tore through an Oshawa, Ont., townhome left four people unaccounted for on Monday as weeping family and friends feared the worst. Authorities said the blaze broke out around 1 a.m.

OSHAWA, Ont. — A fast-moving fire that tore through an Oshawa, Ont., townhome left four people unaccounted for on Monday as weeping family and friends feared the worst. 

Authorities said the blaze broke out around 1 a.m. and sent five people to hospital. Officials did not identify the four who remained missing but family and friends worried two children and two men may not have made it out of the home. 

Gerry Leblanc said he and his wife were woken up by police yelling at them to get out of their home as the fire burned across the street. 

Leblanc said he threw on a housecoat and shuffled outside, which was when he saw the top floor of the townhome where his brother lives engulfed in flames. 

"Holy Christ!" Leblanc recalled saying as he first saw the fire. "I wonder if he's going to get out."

Neighbours said flames shot high into the sky and consumed the top two storeys of the century-old rowhouse.

Twelve hours later, Leblanc shuffled back to the area, still in his housecoat, after spending some time resting at a friend's home. He said he had little information about his brother, Paul Leblanc.

"I don't even know if he's dead," he said. 

His niece, Tammy Wilson, said Paul Leblanc does not have a phone and his family has not heard from him since Sunday afternoon.

"It's nerve-racking," she said. "It will be a while before we find out anything, but you have to hold out some hope."

Neighbours said Leblanc and another man rented rooms on the top floor of the home where a family with children also lived.

Aaron Clague said his friend lived in the home and managed to escape with his wife and their youngest son.

"He told the kids to follow them. They didn't get out," Clague said. "The assumption is the worst right now."

Sharon Powell, another family friend, said she came to the home after hearing about the blaze. 

"All I could think of is the children," she said through tears. "The two boys slept upstairs, I don’t think they had a chance to make it out."

Kim Kirouac, meanwhile, was looking for information about her friend Terry Clark, who she said lived on the top floor. 

"I’m hoping it’s not true," Kirouac said, brushing away tears as she spoke. "I hope he got out alive."

She said she had coffee and breakfast with Clark every day at Gate 316, a nearby drop-in centre.

"I just had coffee with him yesterday," she said as she cried. "But not this morning. It's so sad. So sad."

In all, residents from seven homes have been displaced, officials said.

An emotional Oshawa Fire Chief, Derrick Clark, wiped away tears as he spoke to reporters Monday morning. He said the home at the centre of the fire had nine occupants, five of whom were sent to hospital for treatment. One remains in hospital but the others have been discharged, he said.

"We've got four residents unaccounted for and, you know, at this time it's not looking like it's going to have a positive end, but we're going to continue our investigations," he said.

Clark said the blaze had caused extensive structural damage, making the units too dangerous for fire crews to enter for the time being.

"The structure is extremely unstable right now. The fire was very, very intense, very difficult for our firefighters last night, and it's going to take us some while to get things sorted out," he said.

Clark said the injured were treated for smoke inhalation, burns and cuts.

He also noted that some residents of the units were being sheltered at a local hotel and were receiving aid from the Red Cross and social service agencies.

There was no immediate word on the cause of the blaze, but Clark said the Ontario Fire Marshal and Durham Regional Police were investigating as well.

—With files from Paola Loriggio

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2021.

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press