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This article was published 21/11/2010 (2459 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
NEAR LA BROQUERIE -- Jacob Merkel died saving his son Kai's life, rescuing the 13-year-old from the family's home as it was engulfed in a raging fire outside the Steinbach-area town of La Broquerie this weekend.
Merkel died in hospital in Winnipeg just before noon Sunday. His son remains in the Health Sciences Centre in critical condition.
Jacob Merkel will be remembered as a hero.
The 36-year-old long-distance trucker rushed into his burning house on Hazelwood Drive several times early Saturday to ensure his wife and their four children got out.
But Kai was trapped in the basement, RCMP said, and Jacob Merkel and his son both suffered critical injuries in getting out of the burning house.
Merkel's wife and their three younger children were not injured.
The fire awakened the rural subdivision off Kokomo Lane, about six kilometres northwest of La Broquerie, around 5:40 a.m. Saturday.
The flames jumped from the garage to the house and to the driveway and a semi-trailer all at the same time, blasting fireballs up into the night, residents said.
The Office of the Fire Commissioner has ruled the fire accidental, blaming electrical wiring in the garage, RCMP Sgt. Line Karpish said Sunday. Damage to the house and property was estimated at $500,000.
The severity of the fire makes the rescue all the more heroic, the local volunteer fire chief said.
"Definitely, this man was a hero. For sure," RM of La Broquerie fire Chief Alain Nadeau said.
"You have to talk about the dad. He was a hero," Nadeau insisted.
The RCMP did not release the family's name, and a hospital spokeswoman said the family is declining interviews.
But neighbours and local residents who came by the charred ruin identified the family who lived there as the Merkels.
Jacob Merkel and his family emigrated from Germany and had lived at the house off Kokomo Lane for about five years. He was on the road a lot, making a living as a truck driver, neighbours said.
His wife Ludmilla Merkel was a stay-at-home mom who looked after the couple's four children, neighbours said.
The children range in age from 13 down to kindergarten age.
Neighbour Helena Dunai said she heard Ludmilla Merkel outside yelling for help just before 5 a.m. Saturday and ran outside to see the Merkel home two doors down and the family's semi-trailer truck engulfed in flames.
Dunai had arrived home 20 minutes earlier. There was no sign of fire at 4:30 a.m., she said.
"Then everyone else was out there, all the neighbours, all my siblings," Dunai said. Another neighbour dialled 911. It took 22 firefighters 10 hours to put out all the hot spots.
Nadeau said he and his crew knew the fire was bad long before they reached the scene -- they saw the flames against the sky six kilometres away.
Nadeau said the fire reminded him of a harsh lesson for all homeowners.
"There should be heat alarms in garages, in attached garages, alarms that will ring inside the house if there is a fire. It gives you an early warning," he said.
Ludmilla entrusted her three younger children to the Dunai family, who often babysit for the Merkels, before she left with her husband and son in ambulances.
"When we were carrying them back to our house, they were in shock. They weren't saying anything," Helena Dunai said.
"We told them not to look back. It would be easier for them not to look back."
Dunai broke down in tears recounting the horrors of the previous night. She could not bear to look in the direction of the fire.
Neither she nor anyone else in the community appeared aware early Sunday afternoon that Jacob Merkel had died of his injuries.
Meanwhile, local residents passed by the ruined house in silent file under an overcast sky Sunday, a slow procession of SUVs and sedans that paused or parked and then moved on.
"They told us at church to pray for the family," one driver said. Many said they did not know the family personally. Some of the mourners spoke only German.
In a disquieting interlude, an orange cat with a burned nose crouched outside the ruined Merkel house. Its plaintive repeated yowls split the afternoon air.
Neighbourhood children identified the animal as the Merkel family cat. Out back, behind the house, a German shepherd dog in a kennel barked repeatedly. Another family pet, neighbours said.