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A police officer stands outside a home in Port Moody, B.C., where a woman was injured in a house fire Sunday and later died. An unidentified man is in custody and the case is being investigated as a homicide.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A mother of six has died and her husband is charged with second-degree murder after neighbours helped rescue five children from the roof of a burning home in suburban Vancouver.

Rahim Bhatia said Monday that he and his wife Fawziah rushed outside Sunday as firefighters blasted the flames on the house across the street from their home in Port Moody with high-powered hoses.

"The siding — it just went up. You just felt sick. It was like melting butter," he said.

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The couple said they had often seen children playing outside and sometimes noticed a man they believed was their father, but they had never seen their mother.

The fire seemed out of control, Fawziah added, but firefighters extinguished the blaze in minutes.

"We really thought it was going to burn to the ground," she said.

The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team tweeted that the unnamed accused in the case has been charged with second-degree murder and two counts of arson causing bodily harm.

Staff Sgt. Jennifer Pound confirmed the accused is the woman's husband, but said his name is not being released to protect the identity of the couples' children.

Pound said police responded to reports of a domestic dispute shortly before 1:30 p.m. Sunday, and arrived to find the two-storey home engulfed in flames.

"This incident is one that is tragic beyond words," Pound said in a statement. "Despite the intensity of the fire, the children, with assistance from the general public, managed to escape the burning home with minimal physical injuries."

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The mother died of her injuries just after 6 p.m., Pound said.

Five of the couple's six children were home but were able to climb from the second floor before firefighters arrived. The six children range in age from five to 18, police said.

Two bouquets of flowers rested against a skinny tree across the street from the house, which was cordoned off with police tape on Monday.

A gaping black hole replaced a large picture window that had been blasted out by the fire. The acrid smell of charred debris and chemicals lingered in the air.

The Bhatias saw a young boy taken away by ambulance on a stretcher with an oxygen mask. They also watched as the father was put into a police cruiser.

The neighbourhood is full of families, including many mothers who stay at home to care for their children, they said.

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"It's overwhelming. It was just surreal. It just puts everything in perspective," Rahim Bhatia said.

"Life, it's so short. You don't know your neighbours. We talk about being a community. It puts perspective into, maybe say 'Hi' to more people once in a while."

Pound thanked members of the public who helped rescue the children.

Police canvassed the neighbourhood on Monday and collected any video surveillance footage taken of the fire, the statement said. They were also asking anyone who had photos and videos to contact them.

The name of the woman was not released because officers had not located all of her family members.

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