RCMP believe a woman and teenager were unable to escape before a fire destroyed a family duplex in a small hamlet west of Edmonton early Tuesday morning.
An officer patrolling in Evansburg, Alta., noticed a multi-family duplex on fire shortly after 3 a.m. in the area of 49th Street and 52nd Avenue, according to an RCMP news release Tuesday evening.
Two elderly residents, related to the woman and teen, were evacuated from one side of the duplex by the officer, RCMP said.
RCMP would not confirm whether the woman and teenager are believed to be dead.
"We need to find them," said Cpl. Deanna Fontaine, RCMP media relations officer. "This is a very tragic situation and our heart goes out to this family."
A big huge loss
The community of Evansburg, a hamlet about 100 kilometres west of Edmonton, is shocked by the news.
The Han family that owns a local grocery store, Evansburg Family Foods, lived in the duplex.
Mary Finch lives a few blocks away and has been a customer of the store since she moved to the hamlet a little more than 10 years ago.
"Everybody knows them around here. It's a local family — it's not a community, it's a local family," Finch told CBC News in a phone interview Tuesday night. "It's a big loss, a big huge loss."
She described the store and the family as the cornerstone of the community.
"We're a little nest, Finch said. "It just feels like right now one of our feathers was damaged and we gotta get this family through it and know that they can rely on us like a lot of people relied on them."
Finch organized a GoFundMe page Tuesday morning, originally with a goal to raise $10,000. When the fund reached that within three hours, she raised it.
"I had to change the goal. People have donated so much it surpassed the goal," Finch said.
As of Thursday night, more than 180 people had donated to the fund, which was close to $20,000.
"It is just overwhelming, I never even expected half of this."
Finch said others in the community are collecting furniture and clothing, as she believes the store may be all the family has left.
"I feel for them because they are such hard, hard workers, and I would do anything for them, because they did as much as they could for me, and for all of us."
Finch shared that when she was undergoing cancer treatment, the family showed her kindness and support.
"Every time I'd come in they'd say 'how you feeling, how you feeling today?' They'd give her some fruit and show her how to make soothing tea.
"It's like walking into mom and pop's house," Finch said. "If you're getting groceries and you're say $5 short or something, they'll say 'don't worry about it, I'll get you next time."
Other people were known to live with the woman and teen but they were not inside the duplex at the time of the fire, Fontaine said.
The fire was extinguished around 9 a.m. Tuesday. Investigators with the RCMP Forensic Identification Services and the Alberta Office of the Fire Commissioner were on scene, as the cause of the fire is still under investigation, RCMP said.
Crews will continue searching the structure on Wednesday, RCMP said.