A Syrian family who escaped violence in their homeland in 2017 lost all seven of their children to a house fire in Canada early Tuesday morning.
Halifax police officers, firefighters and emergency responders were called out just before 1 a.m. Tuesday to the family’s rented home in the Spryfield community, where they found parents Ebraheim and Kawthar Barho outside the home. Officials with the Halifax Regional Police said the children’s mother escaped the blaze with minor injuries, but Ebraheim Barho suffered life-threatening injuries.
He remained in critical condition Thursday, Canada’s Global News reported.
The family’s next-door neighbor, Danielle Burt, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) she awoke to a loud noise in the early morning hours.
“I heard a huge bang (as) I was laying in bed with my daughter, followed by a woman screaming,” Burt told the CBC. “So I jumped up out of bed and looked out the back window, and all I could see was flames shooting out from the back door going out onto their deck.”
Burt grabbed her own four children and ran outside, where she was among several neighbors who called 911, the CBC reported.
“It happened all so fast,” Burt said. “The house went up really quickly.”
Later that morning, officials confirmed the horrific news that the couple’s children, including their Canadian-born 4-month-old son, died in the fire, which the CBC described as the most deadly blaze in recent Nova Scotia history.
Leaders at the Al-Barakah Masjid mosque, which the Barho family attended, identified the children as Ahmed, 15, Rola, 12, Mohammed, 9, Ghala, 8, Hala, 4, Rana, 3, and baby Abdullah. Their funeral was being planned for as soon as the children’s bodies are released by investigators.
“Please pray for this family, for the father to survive, for the wife to be OK soon, for these little kids to rest in peace,” Imam Abdallah Hussein wrote on Facebook.
Imam Ibrahim Al-shanti, who presides over the mosque, said Kawthar Barho told him she’d gone downstairs to prepare formula for her infant son when she found the first floor of the house on fire. She screamed for her husband, who ran downstairs and tried to extinguish the blaze.
When he couldn’t douse it, he pushed his wife away from the flames and tried to save their children, Al-shanti told Global News.
The HEART Society, an East Hants-based refugee team that sponsored the family when they arrived in Nova Scotia in September 2017, also posted about the lost children.
“It is with great heartbreak we confirm that all seven children of the Barho family perished in an overnight fire,” a statement posted on the group’s Facebook page Tuesday afternoon reads. “The children’s father was badly injured trying to rescue the children, and he is in critical condition.”
Warm welcome away from danger
The family was warmly welcomed to East Hants, a city in Hants County, Nova Scotia, Sept. 29, 2017, by a group of people waving Canadian flags and giant cardboard maple leaves at the Halifax Stansfield International Airport. The Enfield Weekly Press captured their arrival on video, which showed the Barho parents and their older children smiling broadly at members of their new community.
“Although the Barho family moved to Spryfield in October, they missed the people of East Hants and planned to move back next week,” the HEART Society’s Facebook post read. “The four school-aged children were really looking forward to returning to their schools, Elmsdale District School and Riverside Education Centre.”
At the time of their deaths, the two oldest children attended Rockingstone Heights, an elementary and junior high school, and the younger school-aged children, Mohamad and Ghala, attended Central Spryfield Elementary School.
“This is a tremendously difficult day for both school communities and we ask media to refrain from contacting each school at this time so they can focus on supporting the needs of their students and staff,” a statement from officials with the Halifax Regional Centre for Education stated.
Additional staff was put in place at both schools to help students deal with the loss of their classmates, the statement read.
Central Spryfield administrators tweeted their thanks Wednesday to the community for the outpouring of support being shown as the school dealt with the “unimaginable loss.” They quoted the children’s book “Charlotte’s Web.”
“You have been my friend. That, in itself, is a tremendous thing,” the quote read.
Rockingstone Heights’ staff members also tweeted their thanks, saying they felt the support and appreciated the kindness being shown.
Burt said the Barho children had become good friends with her own since the family moved in next door last fall.
“They were just over at our house yesterday,” Burt told the CBC the day of the fire. “It’s just something out of a horror movie that you just never would wish on anybody.”
The HEART Society thanked everyone in the communities where the family lived for making them feel welcome during their time in Nova Scotia.
“Many people, far too many to name, helped bring the Barho family to East Hants and get settled,” the organization’s post read. “For the past year and a half, the children have been able to enjoy life as kids should be able to: Going to school, riding bicycles, swimming, having friends, running in the yard, celebrating birthday parties and hanging out with the neighbors on their porch swing.
“They loved every minute of it, and it seems impossible we won’t hear their laughter and feel their hugs again.”
Imam Ibrahim Al-shanti, who presides over the family’s mosque, described the children as “lovely” and said the family had been filled with hope as they started life in their new country. He said Kawthar Barho is struggling to cope with the loss of her children as her husband now fights for his life.
“We have all hopes that they will survive this,” Al-shanti told the news agency.
About 20 members of Halifax’s Syrian community had shown up at the hospital since the fire to offer the couple their support, the imam said.
‘It won’t get any easier’
Support has also poured in from across Canada and beyond as government officials expressed their own grief over the children’s deaths. Canada’s immigration minister, Ahmed Hussen, told CBC settlement organizations have brought in crisis counselors to counsel those in the community who have been impacted by the devastating fire.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who attended a candlelight vigil for the children in Halifax Wednesday night, also grieved the loss in a statement.
“Words fail when children are taken from us too soon, especially in circumstances like this,” Trudeau wrote Tuesday morning on Twitter. “My heart goes out to the survivors of the horrible fire in Halifax this morning, and the loved ones who are mourning this tremendous loss.”
A GoFundMe page set up by the Spryfield community has raised more than $450,000 of its $1 million goal in two days. The funds are intended to help the children’s parents restart their lives.
The HEART Society is also dedicating all donations received during the month of February to helping the Barhos move forward. The organization’s fundraising page can be found here.
Halifax officials said the investigation into the fire that killed the Barho children could take months. It’s the second fire in Nova Scotia in the past 14 months that killed multiple children, the CBC reported.
The Jan. 7, 2018, fire in Pubnico Head that killed three siblings, Mya Prouty, 7, Jayla Kennedy, 4, Winston Prouty, 4 months, and a cousin, Mason Grant, 7, who was staying over for a sleepover, was caused by heat from the chimney of the home’s wood stove, the CBC reported last February. The siblings’ parents, Phil Prouty and Emma Kennedy, also survived that blaze.
Deputy Fire Chief Dave Meldrum told the news agency firefighters who responded to the fire at the Barho’s rented home found heavy flames on both floors that made it challenging to fight. The house was gutted and the roof destroyed.
Fire officials have also called in crisis counselors for the first responders, according to Halifax District Fire Chief Mike Blackburn.
“They’ll process this over time, but it’s very, very difficult and it’s not going to get any easier,” Blackburn told the CBC.
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