From The Halifax Herald

Mom, two kids die in fire
Dad, girl in hospital; candle may be to blame


Many people broke down in tears Tuesday recounting the tragic early morning fire that killed a mother and two of her children in west-end Halifax.

Frank James was at his father's house on Chisholm Avenue when he saw flames ripping through a townhouse at 3494 Micmac St. shortly before 12:50 a.m.

Like others, Mr. James raced over and began kicking in the front door. Others used toys from the front yard and cans of pop to smash in a front window.

"We booted the door in . . . and the flames just shot out through," Mr. James said. "There was nothing you could do.

"We tried but we . . . ," he said, his voice trailing off as tears started to flow.

The neighbours frantically tried to wake Mary Sack, her husband Billy Amro and their three children, Anna, 5, Zachary, 3, and Samia, 2.

"I was kicking the door and Frankie was kicking the door," Melissa Allison said. "I was yelling 'Billy, Mary, get out. There's a fire.' "

Only Mr. Amro awoke.

Clad in his underwear, he initially leapt out onto a small pitched roof just below an upstairs window.

But he then went back and rescued his daughter Anna after realizing his family was still inside.

Others also tried to go back in. But, in the span of just a couple of minutes, the blaze, possibly caused by a burning candle, was already out of control.

"All I know is Billy was yelling for his wife and kids. He was freaking out really bad," Ms. Allison said. "He was just yelling 'My kids! My kids! Mary!' " Despite their valiant efforts, many blamed themselves for not rescuing Ms. Sack, Zachary and Samia.

"We couldn't save all of them, but we could save two," said Ms. Allison, fighting back tears.

Mr. Amro handed Anna down to neighbours Kevin Dillman and Sean Tucker, both of whom later still had difficulty recounting the little girl's struggle to breathe.

"I was just trying to keep her focused on me and praying with her and trying to keep her away from all the screaming at the time," Mr. Tucker said.

Numerous children watched as fire and police investigators combed through the devastation, which left all but one upstairs room gutted.

One child asked when Mary, 22, a friend to all the local kids, was coming back.

"Mary is gone to make flowers. God needs her up there to work in his garden," Sheila Westhaver told the girl.

Neighbours agreed Ms. Sack's home was a favourite meeting place for kids.

"They got along with everybody. All the kids around her, that's where they used to go," Mr. James said.

When firefighters arrived, the townhouse was engulfed. Firefighters searched the building for the three trapped occupants and found one child. They performed CPR without success.

Fire investigators believe the fire was accidental but they are still trying to determine the cause, said John Blandin, fire service spokesman.

"They are trying to talk to the (man) that survived the fire, just to ask him a few questions and clear up a couple of details," Mr. Blandin said.

"Once they get those questions answered, they might be able to determine the cause. They aren't ruling out that it possibly could have been a candle, but that's not what they're saying right now."

In the aftermath of hurricane Juan, which left much of the city without power, firefighters also responded to two other Halifax fires caused by candles, Mr. Blandin said.

One ignited a towel and caused minor damage, but another that was left beside a bed extensively damaged an apartment at 2232 Quinn St.

The fire service advises anyone using candles not to leave them unattended, to avoid carrying them or putting them near combustibles, and to use large ones with low stands that won't easily tip over.

Mr. Amro, believed to be originally from Jordan, was taking classes to become a certified mechanic. Ms. Sack is originally from the Indian Brook reserve near Shubenacadie.

Mr. Amro's condition was upgraded from critical to fair at a Halifax hospital Tuesday.

His daughter Anna, in Primary at St. Catherine's School, was at the IWK Health Centre. The hospital wouldn't provide her condition.

Neighbours said Mr. Amro and his daughter were both heavily sedated but expected to survive.

Some said Ms. Sack, Zachary and Samia wouldn't have died had battery-operated smoke detectors been used in the public housing units rather than the electric ones that don't work when the power is out.

Although the fire service has occasionally pushed for some battery-operated smoke detectors in homes - to provide safety during power outages - the Metropolitan Regional Housing Authority said electrical smoke detectors meet building code requirements.

Meanwhile, a family in an adjacent duplex was asked to leave Tuesday because the firewalls between the two townhouses were heavily damaged.

All three duplexes may have to be razed.

The Bayers/Westwood Family Resource Centre at 3499 McAlpine Ave. is helping displaced families.