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'Grand old man' dies in Fort Rouge fire, wife in critical condition

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A man is dead and his wife is in critical condition after an early-morning fire tore through a two-storey home in Fort Rouge.

The fire call came in at about 2:55 a.m. for the century-old wood frame house in the 500 block of Hethrington Avenue. There is a gaping hole in the roof of the house.

Neighbours say an elderly couple who live in the home are a fixture in this part of Winnipeg.

The couple has been identified by neighbours as Bert and Joanne Parry.

"He was a grand old man. He'd lived here most of his life and I think his parents owned the house, one nearby resident said. "He was the oral historian of the community."

A police cruiser remains on the scene, blocking traffic at the corner of Nassau Street and Hethrington Avenue. The intersection remains taped off and fire crews were still on the scene five hours after the fire broke out.

Neighbours said Bert Parry lived his entire life in the home where the fire broke out.

His two sons watched firefighters battle the blaze from a home their father once owned directly across the street on Hethrington.

A neighbour who called family members to the scene said the family declined comment.

The neighbours said the man, a long-retired MTS worker, "was a walking history book" and spent a lot of time in a woodworking shop set up in his garage. He was in his 80s.

His wife, Joanne, is 58, and also worked at MTS until she retired about six years ago. She'd been in failing health for the last year, suffering from Alzheimer disease, the neighbour said.

The man had four children.

Maryann Steggles who lives with her husband, Don Steggles, directly across the street said police woke them up before 3 a.m. this morning.

"They were the ones who saw the smoke. The rest of us were asleep." Maryann Steggles said. She said officers asked them if they knew relatives of the occupants of the house that burned and if they would call them to the scene.

The Steggles said the couple loved cats, travelling and spending winters in Florida.

Winnipeg police officers were the first ones to notice the fire, attempted to enter the burning home to search for occupants but were driven back by the intense heat and smoke.

Firefighters were credited by neighbours for getting the couple out but they barely escaped with their own lives.

"They were halfway down the street with her when I heard them on the radio, telling the other firefighters in the house to get out," said one neighbour who declined to be identified.

"They got out and then the fire went 'whoosh' and the flames went straight up through the roof," he said.

Crews also rescued a cat from the home.

Police estimated the value of the loss in excess of $200,000.

A cause is not yet known. Members of the arson unit are investigating.




Updated on Thursday, November 22, 2012 at 8:30 AM CST: Updated

9:47 AM: Adds more comments from neighbours.

11:32 AM: Updates with damage estimate.

12:02 PM: Updates with names of victims.

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