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Canada Halifax at a loss after seven children killed in house fire

Mourners and members of the public leave flowers and stuffed animal toys at a memorial outside the scene of a fatal house fire in the Spryfield community in Halifax, N.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019.

Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press

Clusters of seven stuffed animals were set on Halifax doorsteps and hundreds gathered after sundown for a moment of silence Wednesday as the city grieved the deaths of the children of a Syrian immigrant family.

All seven of the Barho family’s children, ranging in age from four months to 15 years, perished in a house fire early Tuesday morning in the suburban community of Spryfield. Ebraheim Barho was severely burned while trying to rescue his children and remains critically injured. His wife, Kawthar, survived. Their children were Abdullah, Rana, Hala, Ola, Mohamad, Rola and Ahmad.

Details emerged Wednesday on a possible cause of the fire. Natalie Horne, a spokesperson for the citizens’ group that sponsored the family’s immigration to Canada in 2017, said Ms. Barho told her through a translator that a baseboard heater in the family room had caught fire. Ms. Horne said Ms. Barho had told friends there had been problems with the heater and attempts to repair it.

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“What we were told from Kawthar is that she had come downstairs and noticed that the heating register behind the couch was on fire. It then quickly spread to the sofa and from there moved up to the stairs, where the children were sleeping.”

Ms. Barho has family in Lebanon, Ms. Horne said. Her group had been working “with all levels of government” to try to arrange travel for Ms. Barho’s relatives. It is not clear whether visa restrictions will allow them to arrive in time for the children’s mass funeral, which is being planned by a coalition of Halifax imams.

“Not very many communities – if any, in Canada – have had a taste of what we have here," Halifax deputy mayor Tony Mancini told The Globe and Mail in an interview. “To have a Syrian refugee family leave their country to come to Canada for a better life – that in itself is so brave. It’s pretty rare in Canada to have seven children. To lose them all, it has touched everyone.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended the Wednesday night vigil, but did not make any remarks.

Read more: Ottawa looking into reuniting Halifax Syrian parents with family after children die in fire

Politicians and community members speak to a crowd as part of a vigil for a Syrian refugee family that lost seven children in a house fire. The Canadian Press

Ms. Horne told The Globe Wednesday she had visited the mother in hospital. Ms. Barho told her through a translator that she woke up and went downstairs to the kitchen to get the baby some milk and found the couch on fire. She called her husband to put it out. He could not.

Mr. Mancini said the city will offer any municipal facility deemed suitable to host the funeral, which is expected to be too large for any local mosque. It may be held as early as Friday. The timeline hinges largely on the office of Nova Scotia’s medical examiner, which is conducting its own probe into the cause of the deaths.

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Heather Fairbairn, a spokesperson for the medical examiner, said it is unclear how long the investigation will take, but added the office is “working to complete their work as quickly as possible.”

Several efforts to support surviving members of the Barho family are under way. A GoFundMe campaign organized by the Imam Council of Halifax and the Hants East Assisting Refugees Team (HEART) had raised more than $400,000 by 1 a.m. (AT) Wednesday. The goal for the fund was set at $1-million. All of it will be “gifted to the family,” according to a webpage for the fund.

“It’s hard to estimate how much they’ll need to restart their lives,” the page reads. “But we urge Haligonians and the people of Nova Scotia to do their best.”

Caitlin Stanley, a spokesperson for GoFundMe, said that donations were made from at least 10 countries.

Mr. Mancini, the deputy mayor, said the city has been inundated with calls from people asking what they can do to support the Barhos, but there are few answers so far.

“They need to be able to help when someone in the community passes away,” he said. “I grew up in rural Nova Scotia and what did we do? Somebody made a casserole. You knocked on the door, you took out the garbage for the family. We just want to do something.”

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Read more: ‘Everyone is devastated.’ Seven Syrian children die in early morning Halifax house fire

Kim McGinn, a group-home worker, used her afternoon break Wednesday to lay a bouquet of white carnations at the curb in front of the Barhos’ burned house. The pile was already thick with stuffed pink bunnies and other toy animals.

“It’s the smallest thing I can do,” she said. “My heart is just broken for this family.”

She watched as fire investigators climbed a ladder to the roofless third floor, where they appeared to examine wires. Behind the house, one investigator used a hoe to dig through frozen ash beside a barbecue. A single pink and purple child’s running shoe sat outside the front door. Across the street, a pile of used blankets remained at the base of a tree of a house where a blue Care Bear was affixed to the porch railing.

Ahead of the evening vigil, Mr. Mancini offered advice for those at a loss for what to do.

“If you’re able, come together and have a moment of silence for this beautiful, beautiful family,” he said.

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He also had advice for those grieving from afar.

“If they think about us, just hug the person that they love,” he said. “It doesn’t take much for life to change direction.”

The Barhos' home, 33 Quartz Drive, is listed as a "lovely family home" on a website for Picket Fence Homes. Photos of the interior of the house show multiple baseboard heaters, including one in what appears to be the living room at the rear of the house.

The Globe’s calls to the home’s listing agent, placed Tuesday, were not returned. The house is listed for $1,500 per month.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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