HRM Fire investigators deem Barho fire not suspicious; cause undetermined

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Fatal fire took the lives of all seven children of HEART Society family

HALIFAX: The devastating fire that killed the seven Barho children on a mid-winter night in February has been determined to not be arson and there was no evidence any accelerant was used, HRM Fire said in a press conference at Station 3 on West Street.

While those determinations were made, the exact cause of the fire, which investigators said began near a couch in the back on the house, was not able to be determined, Fire Chief Ken Stuebing said. The fire did begin inside the home on the main floor level.

“We can say that the fire originated in the back of the house in the main floor living room, near a couch, however at this time the cause will be classified as undetermined,” said Stuebing.

The Feb. 19 fire on Quartz Drive in Spryfield killed Abdullah, three-months-old; Rana, 2; Hala, 3; Ola, 8; Mohamad, 9; Rola, 12; and Ahmed, 14. The family was brought to N.S. by the HEART Society and lived in Elmsdale before moving into Spryfield. They were planning to move back to the area the week after the tragic fire.

He said smoke alarms were found throughout the home, however only those fire investigators found in the basement were useable enough to test. All were in working order.

A look at the fire investigation details as presented at the press conference on Sept. 4. (Healey photo)

Fire investigators spent hundreds of hours sifting through all the evidence and documentation searching for a cause. They could not find one, said Deputy Chief Dave Meldrum said.

According to fire officials, they were able to determine the cause wasn’t related to being a cooking fire or due to some kind of electrical fault or defect. The baseboard heaters were in the off position at the time and there was no other heating source in the home.

Meldrum said fire investigators also found no evidence it was caused by someone carelessly getting rid of cigarettes or other smoking materials.

“We investigated every piece of evidence available, and tested every possible theory to learn what we could about this fire,” Stuebing said. “Despite our best efforts we are unable to say what caused this tragic event.

“Our fire investigators simply lacked the physical evidence to make a conclusive determination of cause.”

Deputy Chief Peter Andrews answers a question regarding residents hearing an explosion from the Barho family home before seeing flames on February 19 in Spryfield. (Healey photo)

HRM Fire had two of its own investigators, along with the Fire Marshall’s office and the investigator with the property owners insurance company and other experts involved in the process.

“All of us came to the same conclusions,” said Stuebing.

He said they are aware in the community that some residents reported hearing explosion sounds. Deputy Chief Peter Andrews answered a question from media about that.

“As the heat from the fire began to extend near the propane tank, which was off, it is our belief that the pressure relief valve released, causing propane to be released causing a momentary intensification of the fire,” Andrews said.

When firefighters arrived—in a six minute time frame—they were met with heavy fire over two levels of the home, said Meldrum.

“It was a significant challenge in dealing with the volume of fire,” said Meldrum.

There were concerns express that there could be something deficient or caused the fire in the construction or manufacturing of the home, with many similar ones in the same area. Investigators could not find any evidence of this and they do not believe there is an increased risk of fire to similarly built homes.

Division Chief for Fire Prevention Matt Covey said had investigators determined at any point of the investigation that there was an imminent safety risk that would have been communicated immediately.

“That was not the case here,” said Covey.

Meldrum confirmed Stuebing and Halifax Regional Police shared their findings with Kwathar and family at Ebraheim’s bedside earlier on Sept. 4. They would not provide an update on his condition, but said they were unable to interview him during the course of their investigation. It is one reason for the delay in releasing their investigation details.

“This is one of the reasons we’ve taken time to try and gather all the evidence that we could,” said Meldrum.

Unless new evidence is brought forward, Meldrum said there’s no plans to reopen it. The investigation into the fire is now closed.