Seven children have died and their father is in critical condition after a house fire in Halifax. The family came to Canada as refugees from Syria in 2017.

The fire started at around 12:30 a.m. on Tuesday and quickly engulfed the newly-built home. Neighbours told CTV Atlantic they had heard a large bang.

Danielle Burt, who lives next door, says she heard a woman screaming and jumped out of bed.

“There was just flames just roaring out of their back doors, back windows, everything,” she told CTV Atlantic.

Burt says the mother was on the grass with her head bowed, seemingly in prayer. The woman asked them to call 9-1-1.

“(She) said that their kids were inside. The dad was sitting on the steps. I think he had gone back in because he was really burnt,” she said. “It was just awful.”

The 39-year-old father, Ebraheim Barho, and the 40-year-old mother, Kawthar Al Hamad, are in hospital. Barho has life-threatening injuries. Al Hamad suffered minor injuries.

The seven children who perished are:

  • Ahmad Barho, 14 years old
  • Rola Barho, 12 years old
  • Mohamad Barho, 10 years old
  • Ghala Barho, 8 years old
  • Hala Barho, 3 years old
  • Rana Barho, 2 years old
  • Abdullah Barho, 3 months old

Halifax Fire Deputy Chief Dave Meldrum said the blaze was the deadliest in memory. He would not comment on the possible cause or whether the home was supplied by natural gas.

Community members told CTV Atlantic that the family came to Canada in Sept. 2017 from Raqqa. They had lived in the Halifax home for about five months.

Burt said that the parents spoke little English but the children spoke English well and played with her kids, who are still trying to make sense of what happened.

“You hold your own kids a little bit tighter, and you know, try and console them because they’re quite upset as well,” she said

Family friend Ziad Al Hasso spent most of the day with the parents in hospital.

“Everybody’s sad,” he said. “I am so sorry for Ebraheim and the family.”

The family were privately sponsored by the H.E.A.R.T. Society, which issued a statement on Tuesday on behalf of the “many people” who helped the family get settled.

“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 their neighbours on their porch swing,” the statement says. “They loved every minute of it and it seems impossible we won’t hear their laughter and feel their hugs again.”

Brendan Maguire, the local Member of the Legislative Assembly, had met the family on several occasions.

“I still don’t know what to say or do,” he said.

Maguire added that he knows the community will do everything they can to help.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re here one day or you’re here 100 years, you’re a Nova Scotian,” he said. “This community will pull together like we’ve done in the past and we’ll do what we need to do.”