04/29/2012 12:06 EDT | Updated 06/29/2012 05:12 EDT

Deadly house fire leaves 3 dead east of Toronto

A deadly fire claimed three lives in a house east of Toronto on the weekend. Neighbours say a group of young people lived in the home.

The fire started just after midnight at a Whitby, Ont., residence that had been split into two apartments, near the corner of Dundas and Cochrane streets.

Police say someone inside the house called 911, but none of the people made it out of the building.

The victims were rushed to hospital, but were later pronounced dead.

Neighbours said the deadly blaze began with heavy smoke that was billowing out of the sides of the house.

Sean Loughran was on his computer when he became aware of the fire next door.

“The smoke was actually coming out through the bottom of the house and the fire was in the top,” Loughran told CBC News.

Loughran ran downstairs to call 911, but firefighters were already on scene.

House was ‘fully engulfed’

Further down the block, Terry Elliott said he was woken up by his dog, which started barking just before 1 a.m.

Elliott went outside to see what was happening, quickly noticing that the street was lined with fire trucks.

“It was only later, probably 10 minutes later, that I realized there was smoke coming out of the side of that building and I realized then, I guess there must have been a pretty bad fire,” he said.

“It got worse as I waited, probably 30 more minutes and the entire house, the top of it was fully engulfed.”

Police have not yet released the names of the victims. But Loughran said he believed the people who lived there were in their twenties.

Bryan Fischer of the Office of the Fire Marshal told reporters that the blaze was a loss to the victim's loved ones, the community, and also to firefighters.

"It's a huge loss. Any fire where there's loss of life is a huge incident," Fischer said Sunday.

"It's a huge loss to the community, it's a huge blow for fire safety in Ontario."

Whitby fire deputy chief Bob Mowat said local firefighters did "an outstanding job" to get the victims out of the building quickly, even though they did not ultimately survive.

No word on cause of fire

Mowat also confirmed that firefighters did not make use of a problematic fire hydrant near the burning home, instead using water in booster tanks until they made an alternative hydrant connection.

"If we come across a piece of equipment that is malfunctioning or whatever, then we'll just move on to the next one and that's what we did last night," he said.

"It had no effect on the outcome of the fire."

There is no word yet on the cause of the fire.

Fischer said investigators have not yet determined if the home had smoke detectors.

However, he said it is possible that the available escape routes may have been a factor in the fatalities.

"Clearly smoke alarms are paramount in the home, as well as a planned and practiced escape route, which no doubt would have played a key role in this fire," he said.

Whitby is located about an hour's drive east of Toronto.