Quebec town mourns blaze victims as probe reaches critical stage

Fri Jan 31, 2014 8:33pm EST
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By Louise Egan

L'ISLE-VERTE, Quebec (Reuters) - Investigators sifting through the charred debris at a Quebec home for senior citizens may have found the spot where the fire started, police said on Friday, as the grief-stricken town prepared for a special ceremony for the victims on Saturday that will include Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Thirty-two elderly residents are presumed dead after a fire ripped through the three-story building early on January 23 in the tiny town of L'Isle-Verte on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, about 230 km (143 miles) northeast of Quebec City.

It was the second calamity to hit a small Quebec town in the past seven months. Last July, a crude oil tanker train derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people.

Quebec police spokesman Michel Brunet said the search crews halted their work on Friday morning after finding what they believe could potentially be important evidence for the probe into the cause of the fire.

They will not proceed until a judge grants them a warrant to do so, he said, calling it a routine precaution to ensure any evidence is handled properly and will be admissible in court if necessary.

"We are working with extreme care, and we've discovered certain clues that lead us to believe that the zone we're currently working in is a critical zone which may, and I stress may, be where the fire started," Brunet said.

Police have requested that a chemist and an electrician come to the scene to analyze the findings, he said, but declined to provide further details.

Despite media reports that a cigarette or an electrical problem may have ignited the blaze, police have said it's too early to speculate.   Continued...

Firefighters dig at the site of the Residence du Havre in L'Isle Verte, Quebec, January 28, 2014. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger