Manitoba Tragedy

By Tiar Wilson, aptn National News

The smoke could be seen from far away.

Even as people rushed to help the home was already engulfed in flames.

Constable Tim Mason ran to help, “What do you think when you hear somebody say hey there’s babies inside, you know you have to get them out first instinct try get in.”

The fire erupted Sunday afternoon as community members, including Joseph Wood, were leaving a nearby church.

They scrambled to help.

“Here in st. theresa everybody help one another no matter what”

Inside the house are 15 month old Qualan Harper and 2 month old Errabella Harper.

Just minutes before, their ten year old auntie Martha Harper was in the house when the fire started.

“my little brother woke up first then i heard him crying, i went for my little brothers to get out first.”

People threw snow inside the house desperately trying to control the flames.

Cst. Mason jumped in the bedroom window looking for the children.

“when you go like this right *using his hands like he’s bracing something* it was just sitting in front of me. that baby was crying.”

Mason handed the baby to someone through the window.

“then i thought i heard another baby cry you know, i was on my way back in *hand gesture pulling* when somebody yanked me out of the room out into the snow.”

That’s when someone brought out a chainsaw.

“it didnt really want to start. it was frozen”

While one person tried to get it going, others chopped at the house with axes.

When the chainsaw roared to life, rescuers cut a hole in the wall and felt around in the darkness for Errabella Harper.

“there were two chairs lined up as a make shift bed, we kept pulling it but we didnt know the baby had already been dragged out it was the snow.”

They rushed Errabella to the nursing station with a badly burned face.

Joseph Wood says everyone was trying to save her. “we went over there the nursing station the nurses were all trying to bring her back alive”

But the child was gone and another child is left fighting for her life.

Fire officials say the the fire started in the chimney and likely the wood stove is the blame.

The stove was the home’s only heat source and is a reality on many reserves across Canada.

To make matters worse, the community’s fire truck was broken down at a nearby garage.

The small home housed 8 people.

Ashley Harper, the mother of the two infants is crushed by her loss.

Report from Tiar Wilson [email protected]

Online Producer / Ottawa

Before moving to become the APTN News social media producer, Mark was the executive producer for the news in eastern Canada. Before starting with APTN in 2009, Mark worked at CBC Radio and Television in Newfoundland and Labrador and Ottawa.