NEWS
07/20/2017 07:42 EDT | Updated 07/22/2017 11:04 EDT

Quebec man credited with saving fellow seniors in L'Isle-Verte fire dies

L'ISLE-VERTE, Que. — A Quebec man who was lauded as a hero for helping to save the lives of three of his neighbours in a deadly 2014 seniors' home fire has died at the age of 87.

L'Isle-Verte Mayor Ursule Theriault said Arnaud Cote died in his sleep last Friday.

Cote, then 84, was credited with rushing to save the lives of three fellow residents in January 2014 as fire consumed the Residence du Havre in L'Isle-Verte, about 250 kilometres northeast of Quebec City.

Thirty-two people died in the blaze.

In a 2015 interview with The Canadian Press, Cote recalled waking up, yelling for help, stopping to bang on the doors to wake up three female tenants in his wing and helping them to safety.

Cote lived in the Residence du Havre but in a newer section where all but one resident survived thanks to a firewall.

At the funeral for the victims, the son of one of the three women ran up and hugged Cote, thanking him for saving his mother's life.

Cote downplayed his actions, which many saw as heroic.

"It was something I was happy to do and the kids all came to thank me for saving their mothers," he said in an interview on the one-year anniversary of the blaze.

An obituary for Cote said he was given an honourable mention by the Governor General in recognition of his bravery.

Theriault said Cote's actions that night were typical of his character.

She described the retired dairy farmer as a humble man who always wanted to help others.

"He was always someone who was discreet, who didn't want to bother and who especially wanted to help," she said in an interview. "If he could help someone, it was his greatest pleasure."

After the fire, Cote admitted he had a hard time after so many friends had died or moved away.

Most of the surviving residents were spread out to homes in neighbouring communities, and Cote was one of the few who was able to stay in town.

Theriault said Cote became "a bit pensive" after the tragedy but was always determined to move forward.

"He was an optimist, yes, in the sense that he understood life was important," she said.

Nancy Dumont, who manages the residence where Cote spent his final years, remembered him as a "good and proud man" who liked to play bingo, went to visit his sick sister and was always generous with his time.

"All the residents were devastated when he left us for another world — a better one, we hope, because he deserves it," Dumont said.

"He left it the way he lived, without bothering anyone."

A funeral is scheduled for Saturday in L'Isle-Verte.

— By Morgan Lowrie in Montreal