Lt. Guy Lapointe of Surete du Quebec said 24 residents of the Residence du Havre in L'Isle-Verte have not been accounted for, but there is no reason to believe any of them are alive, the (Toronto) Globe and Mail reported. Eight deaths have been confirmed.
Bruno Belanger, a night watchman at the home, told the Quebecor news agency that at around 11 p.m. Wednesday, about 90 minutes before the fire was reported, he stopped a man from going outside for a smoke. He said he is "95 percent sure" the fire began in that man's room from careless smoking.
The fire has had a devastating effect on L'Isle-Verte, a small farming community on the St. Lawrence River about 130 miles northeast of Quebec City. Jean D'Amour, a former mayor who represents the area in the Quebec assembly, said he arrived on the scene Thursday morning, the Globe and Mail reported.
"The first person I met here was someone searching for his father. It tears the heart. It's truly difficult to imagine," he said. "There's no family here that hasn't been touched by this. Everyone has a mother, a father, an uncle an aunt, a cousin, directly or indirectly everyone here has been affected."
The survivors have been moved to other senior residences in the area. The Red Cross of Canada is raising money to replace their belongings.