A Manitoba father is being hailed as a hero after he died rescuing his teenaged son from a devastating fire and explosion that destroyed the family's home over the weekend.

Members of the Merkel family were roused from their beds in their La Broquerie home early Saturday morning and had only minutes to escape the flames.

Ludmilla Merkel ran outside with three of the children. Her husband Jacob, a truck driver who had hours earlier returned from a road trip, went in search of their oldest son, Kai.

Just as Jacob Merkel appeared at the front door holding Kai in his arms, there was an explosion. Jacob pushed Kai out of the house, but was unable to flee himself.

Jacob perished in the fire, and Kai is in critical condition in hospital.

Alain Nadeau, fire chief of La Broquerie, about 60 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg, called Jacob Merkel a hero.

"Anybody would do it for members of their family, but what he did was the ultimate," Nadeau told CTV Winnipeg.

Firefighters described the fire as one of the worst they had ever seen, with flames shooting as high as 15 metres into the sky.

Officials say the blaze was caused by a build-up of electricity in the garage, where a car was parked on an extension cord. Firefighters say there wasn't a smoke or heat detector in the garage, which could have given the family time to flee the home before it was consumed by flames.

Ludmilla said when she awoke, her husband was telling her to get "out, out. Take the kids out."

Family friend Val Dunai said the children were always Jacob's priority.

"You could always see him either walking or playing, he was always around his kids," Dunai told CTV Winnipeg. "His kids meant a lot to him."

The family, which emigrated from Germany five years ago, is now residing with friends and wearing donated clothing as they plan Jacob's funeral and pray for Kai's survival.

"Only prayers can help in this situation," Dunai said.

A trust fund for the family has been set up at Steinbach Credit Union.

With reports from CTV Winnipeg's Jeremy Hunka and CTV's Jill Macyshon