PUBNICO HEAD, YARMOUTH COUNTY, N.S. – There is immense heartbreak in Yarmouth County following a house fire that has claimed multiple young lives and is being described as an unimaginable tragedy.
At 12:13 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 7, the RCMP received a 911 call about a house fire on Highway 3 in Pubnico Head. Reports coming out of the community are that four children perished in the fire, although the RCMP said Sunday afternoon they were not in a position to release the age and genders of the deceased, nor were they confirming the number of deaths.
In a media briefing Sunday afternoon, Corporal Jennifer Clarke said the RCMP were in the preliminary stages of what she called a very complex investigation. Additional resources have been called in as part of the investigation, including the Nova Scotia Medical Examiner Service, the Nova Scotia Office of the Fire Marshal and the RCMP’s forensic identification section. The investigation is being headed by the RCMP’s Major Crime Unit.
“We will be working with the families and trying to determine the cause of the fire with our partners in the investigation,” said Cpl. Clarke, noting family members were obviously devastated by this event. “I cannot imagine how family members would take news like this. This is a horrible, horrible tragedy for anyone to experience.”
The Pubnicos in Yarmouth County are a tight-knit region. Kathy Bourque, the municipal councillor for the area where the fire occurred, learned of the tragedy from her husband, a member of the East Pubnico fire department, after he returned home from the fire scene.
“It’s very sad, devastating,” she said.
West Pubnico’s fire department was the first to respond – the fire was in their district – but other departments also responded to the blaze, including Woods Harbour/Shag Harbour, East Pubnico, Eel Brook and Lake Vaughan.
“It’s very hard,” Coun. Bourque said. “It’s like any community. We all know each other and when something like this happens, everybody is devastated.”
Different organizations were offering to help, she said, noting, for example, that she had been contacted by a representative of the local EMO, who also is involved in the Red Cross.
A section of Route 3 where the fire took place has been closed throughout the day on Sunday.
Two people did escape the blaze, the RCMP said.
“One individual (was) taken to hospital as far as I understand it,” said Cpl. Clarke. She said Sunday afternoon that the cause of the fire had not been confirmed. The home was completely destroyed.
The weather in Yarmouth County at the time of the fire would have been bitterly cold, in the minus-12-to-13 range with the windchill in the minus 20s, along with flurries and blowing snow.
The official Facebook pages of at least three Nova Scotia fire departments posted on Sunday that four children died in the blaze.
Paul Ash, the superintendent of the Tri-County Regional School Board, said Sunday that a critical intervention team would be at Drumlin Heights Consolidated School on Monday to provide support to any students or staff who need it. Ash said the loss of life of some of the board’s students is heartbreaking.
“(It is) an extremely tragic event and our thoughts and prayers are with the family,” he said. “There are no words.”
"The critical incident team is made up a school psychologist, the board’s School’s Plus facilitator who has a social work background, and also our mental health clinician. The team is experienced in terms of helping students and staff respond to incidences of trauma and they’re there to help school administration in terms of appropriate messaging to the staff and the students,” said Ash.
There is also help being extended to the first responders who were at the scene, including the RCMP, EHS and firefighters, as this was also a traumatic experience for them.
“We have a long-established Peer and Family Support Program which, through a volunteer network, provides support for staff in times of occupational and personal stress,” said Jean Spicer, a spokesperson for EHS. “Additionally, our organization has an Employee Assistance Program. These programs and others are available 24/7 and 356 days a year. From an on-scene perspective, mobile watch commanders and supervisors are also available for scene, staff and patient support and to assist with coordinating with allied partners.”
Cpl. Clarke said a debriefing will occur for RCMP members who responded to the scene. As she was finishing up a media briefing, she received an email from an RCMP chaplain checking in to see how she and others were doing.
Meanwhile, sympathy and condolences continue to flood social media, particularly Facebook, from the public.
Examples included: “My heart hurts for the families,” and “Deeply saddened by the news in Yarmouth today. Praying for everyone affected, the families, mothers, fathers, grandparents, families, friends, first responders, and communities who are going to be hurting, suffering and have their lives changed forever. Absolutely heartbreaking. Please keep them in your prayers.”