Just two weeks ago, Nazir Ali shared a new goal for his future: he told his cousin, Brampton firefighter Randy Narine, that he wanted to join the firefighting profession, too.
Ali, 28, “lived for his family,” Narine said Monday — his wife, Raven Alisha Ali O’Dea, and their children, 10-year-old Alia, eight-year-old Jayden, and seven-year-old Layla.
Just last year, the couple purchased a home of their own: a brick, two-storey house with purple shutters in a quiet Brampton neighbourhood, installing new floors and drywall soon after. They shared the home with Raven’s mother, Bonnie O’Dea, and the kids could be found playing in the front yard.
It was to that family home on Conestoga Drive that fire crews raced shortly before 2 a.m. Monday, following 911 calls reporting a home ablaze.
First responders arrived to find a dangerous combination of heavy smoke and flames jutting out from the home’s windows. They tried to get in — doing “heroic and tremendous work under extremely difficult circumstances,” Brampton Fire Chief Bill Boyes told reporters Monday — but it was too late.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had a tragic outcome here today,” Boyes said.
Ali, Raven and their three kids died in the early morning fire, the second blaze in a Brampton home that’s killed multiple children in the last two months. A third adult — who family and neighbours identified as Bonnie O’Dea, Raven’s mother — was rushed to hospital and is in critical condition.
Two men who neighbours said were renting the basement escaped unharmed, after witnesses reported they got out safely — someone had banged loudly on their door, instructing them to leave.
The fire has horrified neighbours, one of whom witnessed firefighters’ attempts to resuscitate two of the children, and left relatives across Canada reeling from the unthinkable scale of the loss.
“This is an awful tragedy that our family will never recover from,” said relative Leanna O’Dea, speaking to the Star from Newfoundland.
“They were a loving family, we are devastated,” Narine said.
The cause of the blaze is not yet known. The Office of the Fire Marshall (OFM) is now leading the investigation, and on Monday began the task of working, alongside Brampton Fire and Peel Police, to determine the cause and origin of the fire, said OFM spokesperson Sean Driscoll.
“As the investigation has only just begun it would be premature and speculative to determine any cause at this time,” Driscoll said.
Firefighters battled the blaze for hours. Speaking to reporters Monday morning near the house, extensive fire damage visible to its second storey, Boyes described an “aggressive” attempt by firefighters to enter the home. “They wanted to do everything they could. They risked their lives to go into this fire and, you know, get these people out,” he said.
But facing very difficult fire conditions, firefighters were forced to retreat.
“We didn’t want to have any more loss of life than we already had at this fire,” Boyes said.
Four family members were pulled from the fire. Two children were transported to hospital, where they were pronounced dead, police said. Another child and the two adults were pronounced dead at the scene.
Neighbour Tina Huszar said she was woken up by sirens around 2 a.m. to see the home’s second storey, which she said was Bonnie O’Dea’s bedroom, engulfed in flames, and firefighters breaking windows in their rescue attempts. She saw first responders trying to resuscitate two of the children.
“I still think I’m in shock,” Huszar said. “I can’t believe the kids are gone.”
Huszar, who described herself as a grandma to children in the neighbourhood, was a friend of the family, bonding with Bonnie after learning she was also from Newfoundland. The three children had come over to play in Huszar’s pool, she said. Nazir liked to take the kids downtown for trips, Huszar said, and Bonnie would look after her grandchildren when their parents were at work.
“I hope she pulls through,” Huszar said of Bonnie.
Malon Edwards, a Peel District School Board spokesperson, confirmed that the board and “our school communities are deeply saddened by the news of the three students who passed away.”
Edwards said counsellors and other support staff from the school board’s critical incident response team are available to assist students and employees.
Fire trucks remained outside the burned-out home Monday morning. A large upper-floor window was broken and blackened above the garage, and damage was also visible to the front door. What appeared to be a red reindeer decoration could be seen on the home’s front porch, apparently undamaged.
Boyes said he spoke to the firefighters who’d attempted to save the family.
“Our hearts are absolutely breaking — to lose three children and two adults,” he said.
Some of those present at Monday’s fire were from the same platoon that responded to a January blaze where three young children — brothers — were killed in a separate fatal fire in a Brampton townhouse unit.
“We’ll make a tremendous focus on making sure they have all the resources available in terms of mental health that they may need, not only today, tomorrow but in the coming days as well,” Boyes said.
The fire is a reminder to everyone to check your smoke alarms and ensure you have a working carbon monoxide detector, the fire chief said. In the event of a fire, “you have seconds … you don’t have a long time, you don’t have minutes,” he said.
Speaking in Brampton with Premier Doug Ford on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: “We’re all thinking of those affected by this horrible heartbreaking tragic fire on Conestoga Drive. I want to thank first responders for their tireless efforts and our thoughts are with friends, family, and loved ones, as always.”
With files from Isaac Phan Nay
Maria Iqbal is a 905 Region-based staff reporter for the Star. Reach Maria via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Isaac Phan Nay is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Reach him via email: email@example.com
Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing for the Star. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis