'Very happy kids': Family, community mourn 3 children, 2 grandparents killed in house fire

A rural community northwest of Edmonton is shaken following a house fire that killed three children and their grandparents.

The bodies of married couple Marvin and Janet Gibbs and their three grandchildren were discovered in their Rochfort Bridge, Alta. home that was destroyed by the fire on Thursday. Their remains weren’t recovered until Friday, when police said the fire was not believed to be suspicious. 

Marvin was 81-years-old, his sister-in-law Effie Gibbs said in an interview Saturday. The relative said Marvin and Janet had full custody of Janet’s daughter’s kids.

“He had a big duty to take on those three kids,” Effie said.

“He was a very good man. He was a bit slow at getting around,” she said, adding that her brother-in-law was a welder, carpenter and a volunteer firefighter. She was unsure of Janet’s age, and said the couple had only been married for a few years.

She described the children as “very happy kids.”

The Office of the Fire Commissioner and the RCMP continue to investigate after five people died in a house fire in Rochfort Bridge. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Rochfort Bridge is a small community of about 50 people some 130 kilometres northwest of Edmonton. 

On Saturday morning, heavy equipment sat quietly next to the charred remains of the home in the small community. A backhoe was parked next to a pile of debris. The smell of charred wood lingered, and neighbour Mike Hermann said he had to call firefighters late Friday to extinguish the pile when it briefly reignited.

Hermann has lived next to Marvin for about 25 years. On Thursday, Hermann saw the fire burning at the back of his neighbours’ house around 4 p.m.

He ran over and banged on the door, but when no one answered he said he thought the family must not be home. 

He didn’t learn they had all died until Friday morning.

‘Extensive efforts’

RCMP confirmed Friday that both police and firefighters responded to the blaze Thursday afternoon, but that despite “extensive efforts” the house was destroyed.

At 1:30 a.m. Friday, firefighters reported that the remains of one person had been found in the home.

The fire department notified the RCMP at around 4:30 a.m. Friday that four other bodies had been found, Anderson said. 

A more extensive search of the residence was delayed until 9 a.m.

Police have not confirmed the ages or names of the victims.

On Friday, members of the small community were still trying to wrap their head around the tragedy.

“Everyone’s devastated,” said Michelle Trudzik, who said she knows the family and who works at a local store.

Joe Blakeman, the reeve of Lac Ste. Anne County, was still waiting to learn details about the fire on Friday afternoon.

“Automatically what goes through my mind is, ‘Oh my God,'” Blakeman said. “It’s a tragedy and it’s going to be ongoing throughout our community for so much time down the road because of everybody that’s involved.”

RCMP have brought Victim Services into the community for those in need.

RCMP Alberta Cpl. Laurel Scott said Saturday that police will likely issue an update early next week after receiving a report from fire investigators.

Rochfort Bridge, Alta., is a small hamlet of about 50 people, 130 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

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