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7 kids killed in house fire

Seven children, all members of a Syrian family who arrived in Canada about two years ago, died in an early morning fire Tuesday that witnesses said quickly engulfed a home in a Halifax suburb.

A woman who lives next door on Quartz Drive in Spryfield said the family included seven children ranging in age from three months to 17-years-old.

A man and woman remained in hospital Tuesday afternoon, the man with life-threatening injuries. The woman was expected to survive her injuries.

In a brief interview from the hospital, Imam Abdallah Yousri of the Ummah Mosque and Community Centre in Halifax said the family was originally from Raqqa, Syria.

Danielle Burt, who lives next door to the family, said she heard a loud bang and a woman screaming just after 12:30 a.m. Tuesday.

She fled the house with her four children and saw the parents outside in a harrowing scene.

"The mother was on the grass, praying I guess, bowing, her hands down, and pulling on my husband's arm to call 911," she said, becoming emotional.

"She said the kids were inside and the dad was sitting on the steps. I think he had gone back in because he was really burnt. It was just awful."

The family has been in Canada almost two years, Yousri said, and originally settled in Elmsdale, north of Halifax.

"They just moved to Halifax, they weren't in Halifax before. They just moved to Halifax three months ago," Yousri said.

Yousri said the funerals would likely be held Wednesday.

"Our entire municipality is heartbroken and our thoughts are with the loved ones of the family," Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said in a tweet.

Another neighbour who didn't want to be identified told The Canadian Press that she was startled awake by screams.

"We heard horrible screams and then got up and saw the flames," she said. "It was horrible. We called 911 but it took a long time to get through because apparently everyone was calling 911 at the same time."

The woman said she and her husband heard men yelling and they saw a woman in distress in the street.

"I saw a woman kind of flailing around on the road, she looked to be in a lot of distress," her husband said. "The police were kind of helping her, I don't know if they were holding her back from going back, but she was kind of falling down, they were lifting her up."

The woman said the fire spread very quickly as they watched.

"It was really scary," she said.

"I was nervous it was going to hit the house next door but it didn't. And then the fire crews finally got here, but there were flames shooting out the front of the house, like shooting out the windows. It was horrible."

The home, which was extensively damaged in the blaze, is situated in a newly built residential neighbourhood.

The street was closed for a time to both pedestrian and vehicle traffic as the investigation ensued and police asked people to stay out of the area.

Halifax District Fire Chief Mike Blackburn said the fire was very heavy when they arrived, but firefighters were able to "knock it down" quickly.

He suggested firefighters were deeply affected by what they saw.

"They'll process this over time but it's very difficult and it's not going to get any easier."

In a joint news release, Halifax police and fire services said their first responders were deeply saddened.

"The fire remains under investigation. Our thoughts are with the family, community and all first responders involved at this difficult time," they said.



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