Owner of Hamilton home where mom and children died in blaze convicted of fire code offences
The Hamilton Spectator

The owner of a north Hamilton home where a mother and two of her children were killed in a fire two and a half years ago has been convicted of Ontario Fire Code offences for failing to maintain smoke alarms.

Luciano Brancalion pleaded guilty to failing to install smoke alarms in hallways serving sleeping areas and failing to maintain smoke alarms in operating condition.

On Wednesday, he was sentenced to 14 days in jail — a sentence the City of Hamilton lauded as delivering "a strong message to building owners."

Victoria Forrest, 26, her son Robert Sheaves, 9, and daughter Abagail LeBlanc, 18 months, were killed in the fire at 70 Niagara St. in the Keith neighbourhood on the morning of Aug. 6, 2016.

Firefighters were called to the home just before 4:30 a.m. for a fire later determined to have been caused by unattended cooking.

The fire began in the kitchen, on the first floor, and spread to upper levels. Forrest and the two children slept in an attic bedroom. Seven others in the home were treated for injuries and one escaped uninjured.

The tragedy sparked an outpouring of support for the surviving members of the family.

A jail sentence for fire code violations is uncommon here, with most people being sentenced to fines.

Jail time reinforces the strong message that homeowners are responsible for working smoke alarms, said Hamilton Fire Chief David Cunliffe.

It's the law to have working smoke alarms on every floor of a residence, including outside sleeping areas. That's because smoke alarms can mean the difference between life and death.

"Smoke alarms allow people to get out and gives them chance to survive a fire," Cunliffe said.

Without early detection, smoke will begin to build, starting at the ceiling and working down. It's typical to see people unable to escape because they're overcome by smoke.

Property records obtained at the time of the fire showed Brancalion purchased 70 Niagara in 1998.

The property was rented by the children's grandmother, Yvonne LeBlanc. Her son Daniel had purchased the neighbouring home, 74 Niagara, three months before the fire. It was under renovation so everyone was staying at No. 70.

Daniel had two children with Forrest, Abagail and their surviving son Dantay LeBlanc — community members organized a fifth birthday party for him a week after the fire. Forrest also had another son Tayshaun, six, known as Tay Tay, who was six at the time.

In the days following the fire, Brancalion told The Spectator he had known the family for more than 20 years.

"This is very upsetting for me," he said on the phone, declining to comment further. "It's devastating."

Following this fire and other deadly blazes in the city around that time, the Hamilton Fire Department launched its Home Fire Safety Education Program in May 2017.

It includes Hamilton firefighters going door to door talking about fire safety and checking smoke alarms. Hamilton firefighters have visited 20,031 homes, installed 2,066 smoke alarms and replaced 427 batteries.

Since the program began, Hamilton firefighters have noticed a small, but measurable decrease, in the number of homes they visit that do not have working alarms, Cunliffe said.

The difference is "encouraging," because it shows more people are getting the message, he said. The goal is to see every property in the city properly equipped with smoke alarms.

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