L’Isle-Verte Fire Victim Search Is Ended and Shifts to DNA Testing


The L’Isle-Verte fire victim search has reportedly ended on Sunday, and the federal and provincial authorities are shifting their focus on DNA testing on the victims. The recovery team uncovered the bone fragments of victims in the rubble of Résidence du Havre, the retirement residence, where a January 23 fire claimed 32 lives and sent them to the coroner’s office in order to identify victims and notify the families still waiting for any news. So far, investigators have identified and confirmed the death of 27 people.

Local police is still investigating the cause of the fire, and officers are now ordered to pursuit any kind of evidence that could be used in the court if necessary. A warrant was already issued on Friday afternoon for collecting evidence. Provincial investigators are contemplating multiple scenarios, including a criminal activity leading to the deadly fire.

As the focus of L’Isle-Verte investigation is shifting from searching for fire victims to DNA testing for identification, many gathered on Saturday to pay the tribute to victims whose life unexpectedly ended. Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrived at L’Isle-Verte, a small town with the population of 1,400, along with other dignitaries to mourn 32 seniors who died in the January 23 fire. The memorial service on Saturday was held in La-Décollation-de-St-Jean-Baptiste church, the 1855 stone church with 900-seat but only with no more than 70 worshipers in regular attendance.

The tragedy affected almost everyone, not just victims’ families, in this small town one way or the other. Aubin Rioux, a caregiver and planner in Résidence du Havre, told The Toronto Star that he was trying to remember good memories of victims. Gilles Frigon, priest of the L’Isle-Verte church, stated in the service without note that victims did not have to die in such a tragic way. Pope Francis also sent a message to the church.

For some others, this tragedy aroused the horrifying feeling of déjà vu. In July 2013, the oil train exploded killing 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, the town of 6,000 people, about 245 miles away from L’Isle-Verte. Both tragedies from the inferno are similar in many aspects, especially for the unexpected end to their lives. Lt. Michel Brunet, chief communications officer with the Sûreté du Quebec police, told to The New York Times that he wished that the Lac-Mégantic fire would be his first and last case of the massive fire killing so many people but that he was exactly in the same spot in L’Isle-Verte as in Lac-Mégantic.

Yet there is a stark difference between the feelings coming out of two tragedies, The New York Times reports. The tragedy in Lac-Mégantic was caused by a human error; the cause for fire in L’Isle-Verte is still unknown. The anger at Lac-Mégantic was simmering against the railway company; and people showed how angry and sad they were. In contrast, people in L’Isle-Verte kept their heartache to themselves. Mayor Ursule Thériault of L’Isle-Verte bluntly told reporters at news conference that her village could have been much better now without journalists poking around. The owner of the local bowling alley told outsiders that there should be no interviews or photos in his premises, saying that his place is for people to forget.

It is still uncertain when the final result on the L’Isle-Verte fire will be available to the public. As the fire victims search is ended and the focus shifts to identifying the dead through DNA testing, the L’Isle-Verte people, as Normand Lafrance told The Gazette, will soon resign to the fact that the fire took the whole generation away.

By Jonathan JY Jung


The Toronto Star
The New York Times
The Gazette

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