POLITICS

Police say exact cause of fire at seniors' home likely won't ever be known

12/18/2014 07:43 EST | Updated 02/17/2015 05:59 EST
RIVIERE DU LOUP, - The exact cause of the fire at a Quebec seniors' home last January that killed 32 people will likely never be known, a coroner's inquest into the tragedy heard Thursday.

Provincial police fire experts unanimously concluded, however, that the blaze began in the kitchen.

"That cannot be disputed," said fire expert Carol de Champlain, who testified on the last day of the inquest.

He said the destruction at the Residence du Havre in L'Isle-Verte prevented experts from determining what sparked the fire.

Coroner Cyrille Delage also heard Thursday from Bruno Belanger, the only employee working the night of the blaze.

Instead of immediately ushering elderly residents outside after he noticed the flames, Belanger awoke a co-owner of the residence.

Belanger admitted to waking up Irene Plante before knocking on the doors of the elderly residents or unlocking the main doors to the building.

He said he did so because he was following "protocol."

Eric Hardy, a lawyer for the municipality of L'Isle-Verte, said Belanger didn't follow any protocol but panicked because he didn't know what to do.

Belanger's claim that he saw flames in a second-floor room and none in the kitchen contradicted experts who said the fire started on the first floor.

Hardy told Belanger that there was no way he could have seen flames on the second floor.

Immediately after the fire, a rumour circulated that a lit cigarette from a resident's second-floor room started the deadly blaze.

"I said what I saw," replied the 57-year-old employee.

The coroner said he was convinced the fire did not start in the resident's room on the second floor.

The last evidence presented to the coroner Thursday was a map indicating where 28 of the 32 victims' bodies were found after the fire.

Many bodies were found outside the building, likely as a consequence of residents who died on their balconies.

Delage asked the public not to "jump to conclusions to quickly."

He asked for people to hold judgment until he finished his report, although he did not say when it would be completed.

Criminal charges against people involved in the blaze are possible.

The inquest heard from various people, including firefighters, eyewitnesses and senior citizens who lived at the Residence du Havre.

The residence housed 52 elderly people, including many who couldn't move around without the use of a walker or wheelchair.

Delage wished loved ones of the victims all the best in the future.

"I am sure 2015 can't be worse than the current year," he said.