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Northern Manitoba community devastated by fire deaths of 3 young children


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PUKATAWAGAN, Man. - A working smoke alarm was not enough to save three little boys who died in a house fire Monday in the northern Manitoba community of Pukatawagan.
The design of the mobile home they were in was flagged as a fire trap Wednesday by the head of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.
"When a fire breaks out it doesn't take long for those mobile homes to be engulfed in flames," said Ron Evans.
"You can have the best of fire departments but if you have a place that's burning so quickly, what's the chance of saving the lives of the people that could be in there?"
Letrel Bigghety-Castel, 5, and his two cousins, Robert Castel-Lapensee Jr., 4, and Troi Castel-Lapensee, 3, died in the blaze that began about 2:30 p.m. Monday.
Autopsies done in Winnipeg concluded the boys died of smoke inhalation.
Their bodies were returned to the northern First Nations community Wednesday.
Friends and family spent Wednesday afternoon in a healing circle, remembering the three fun-loving, rambunctious boys.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation by the Office of the Provincial Fire Commissioner.
Residents, workers and firefighters rushed to the scene and rescued Simon Nicholas, the 57-year-old uncle of the boys, who was babysitting at the time.
He was in critical condition at the Health Sciences Centre.
Witnesses described rushing to the burning home with other concerned friends and family members, including volunteer firefighters and construction workers. But the blaze was already out of control.
The mobile home had a smoke detector that was equipped with batteries, Pukatawagan Fire Chief John Colomb said Wednesday.
One local builder of northern homes agreed the design and construction of the mobile home was a contributing factor in the tragedy.
"In my opinion, mobile homes should not be used in those northern reserves because in most cases the availability to fire fighting equipment is not there," said Jerry Sorokowski, owner of Project Management Group Inc.
"The mobile homes go up in flames quickly and by the time the fire department mobilizes it's always too late."
The material that many mobile homes are made of - vinyl siding and wood panelling - and its long, narrow design make mobile homes more susceptible to fire, Sorokowski said.

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