At the request of the family, officials have not released the name of the deceased, who was from India and was studying business analytics. He came to the school in Sydney, Nova Scotia, in September 2021.
Cape Breton Regional Municipality deputy fire chief Gilbert MacIntyre told The PIE News that emergency workers received a seemingly straightforward call on December 17 about a blaze in a garbage can on the back porch of the house. However, the fire quickly spread inside and the structure filled with smoke.
MacIntyre said that when fire crews arrived the other students living there were gathered outside. “They yelled out to the firefighters, ‘We haven’t seen our friend. He’s staying on the third floor.’”
While some of the crew put out the fire on the back porch, others went to the front door, the deputy chief said. “They found a high level of heat and heavy smoke and entered the building,” he said.
Firefighters climbed the stairs to the second floor of the three-storey structure. “They discovered the student’s body on the second floor – he had made it down there from the top floor but was overcome by smoke,” MacIntyre said.
The deputy chief said that the building was a “company house” constructed by former steel and coal mining firms to accommodate workers. These houses were built about 100 years ago.
Eight international students were living in the small house, attached to an adjacent duplex. All of the students were left homeless due to the blaze, as was a family of five in the house next door.
“Landlords are increasing rents and it’s very hard to manage the cost as an international student”
“Regretfully, Cape Breton University can confirm the passing of one of our students in a recent fire… As we grieve together, there are a variety of services that have been made available to students, faculty and staff, including grief counselling,” the university said in a statement.
“We are also supporting students who are currently displaced by the fire.”
“There is such a shortage of housing that students have to share bedrooms with other students,” Damanpreet Singh, president of the student union at the university, told The PIE.
“Landlords are increasing rents and it’s very hard to manage the cost as an international student.”
The student union arranged for the homeless students to stay at a local motel and provided them with donated food and clothing. Most have since found permanent housing but a couple are still living at the motel.
Last month, Cape Breton University, citing a housing shortage, told international students that they should defer coming to Canada unless they had confirmed accommodations. It also announced plans to build new apartments by taking advantage of a $5 million grant from the Nova Scotia government.
“The new housing is good but it will take time before it’s available,” Singh noted.
The university announced that it is capping enrolment on its two-year post baccalaureate business diploma program, which is popular with international students.