Dad charged with second-degree murder, arson after house fire

Quick-thinking passersby and neighbours helped five children escape from a deadly house fire in Port Moody on Sunday.

The blaze broke out in a home in the 3300-block Dewdney Trunk Road shortly before 1:30 p.m. Moments later, according to one neighbour, at least three people who were driving by spotted the kids in the second-floor window and stopped to help. One man had a ladder, which the passersby used to help the children climb out to safety. “It was just such a blur,” said the neighbour, who didn’t want to be named. The kids escaped with minor injuries. Their mother, however, suffered extensive burns and later died at hospital. The children’s father was arrested at the scene and taken away by ambulance. He’s in custody and was charged Monday with one count of second-degree murder and two counts of arson causing bodily harm. The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) has conduct of the investigation. A sixth child wasn’t home at the time of the fire.  The neighbour — who took care of the children after they escaped until they went to hospital — said the family mostly kept to themselves, but she noticed that the woman was a “wonderful” mom.  “Her son said, ‘My mom is so strong, she always protects us.’ That broke our hearts. She was a strong woman,” the neighbour said.  Police say that before the fire started, Port Moody police responded to a call about a domestic disturbance at the house. It’s believed that one of the kids made the call. When officers arrived, the house was engulfed in flames. The children had already escaped at that point, however, their parents remained in the house. Police quickly removed the couple from the home and the fire department was called in to assist. The cause of the fire hasn’t yet been determined. Nikki, who lived in the basement suite of the house with her sister and dog and didn’t want her last name published, was having lunch with her mother when the fire started. When she returned home, the house was already on fire. She was able to rescue her dog.  “I just can’t believe what happened,” she said.  She mostly dealt with the woman and described her landlords as nice people, with whom she exchanged Christmas cards. She said she never heard them fighting or saw the police at the house during the year she lived there. “I don’t know exactly what happened upstairs, but I never heard anything bad that would alarm me,” she said. The neighbourhood is in shock. “It’s horrible. We’re a small community and it affects everybody,” said Carol Atkins, who lives across the street from the home where the incident took place. She said the couple and their children were friendly enough, but she didn’t know them personally. Some of her neighbours saw police at the house in the past, but she hadn’t seen police there herself.  A man who lives in a nearby trailer park and walks past the house frequently said he often saw the husband outside working in the yard and said hello to him. He happened to be walking by when the fire started Sunday and heard the windows break as the fire grew hotter. “It was awful,” he said. Mercedes Pascual, who has lived across the street for 23 years, described the couple as “very private people.” She said she had only recently met the woman who died. “We were just shocked to see that, because that never happens here in our community,” she said. The names of the accused and the victim haven’t yet been releasedPolice are hoping to speak to anyone who was in the area during the incident and took photos or video of the fire. They can contact IHIT by calling 1-877-551-IHIT.