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Three Cubans Killed In Consulate Blaze, Firefighters Held Back

March 30, 1988

MONTREAL (AP) _ Three Cubans were killed in a fire that heavily damaged their consulate and was raging out of control by the time consular officials allowed firefighters to battle it, authorities said.

The fire Tuesday night was believed to have started on the top floor of the four-story mansion, where the bodies of the one woman and two men killed were found in separate rooms.

″It looked like they died trying to put out the fire,″ said the district fire chief, Guy Lafortune.

The names and occupations of the dead were not released and Consul-General Lourdes Urrutia, who took up her post only last week, refused to speak to reporters.

The blaze took 100 firefighters more than three hours to bring under control. Its cause was under investigation.

Consulate officials held firefighters back for about 15 minutes before they were allowed to enter the building on the slopes of Mount Royal. By the time they got in, the fire was out of control.

″We had a little trouble getting in because there was nobody to answer the door,″ said Lafortune, the first senior fireman on the scene when he arrived about 7:30 p.m. ″They weren’t expecting us because nobody (at the consulate) had called an alarm and everybody in the building was upstairs fighting the fire.″

Police Sgt. Ulrich Pilon, who arrived soon thereafter, said security guards in a nearby luxury apartment building had reported smoke coming from the consulate’s roof.

″After we talked with the consul and she checked with her officials in Ottawa, they let the firemen in,″ Pilon said.

The 1963 Vienna convention ratified by Canada in 1974 provides that authorities of the host country, such as police and firemen, cannot enter consular premises without permission.

″The consul agreed to let our men in as long as we did not enter certain areas of the building. Men were stationed at certain doors to keep us away. There was no fire in those areas,″ said Lafortune.

″We got up to the fourth floor and there were two Cubans with hoses trying to fight the fire. It was full of smoke and so hot we couldn’t stay there. We were forced down,″ he added.

He said he saw about a dozen guns of various kinds on the walls inside.

About 25 people were removed from the older section of the consulate. The fire did not reach a newer wing.

Lafortune said his men had a hard time fighting the flames because every window on the fourth floor was either barred or heavily shuttered and nailed closed: ″We couldn’t get adequate ventilation.″

Hundreds of onlookers watched from across the street, many standing on the muddy front lawn of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who lives directly opposite. Trudeau did not appear.

Firemen said it was easier to get into the Cuban consulate than into the nearby Soviet consulate when it caught fire in January 1987. Soviet officials tried to put out that fire with buckets of snow and a garden hose before firemen were let in.

In 1972, when the Cuban trade commission in the north end was firebombed and one Cuban was killed, Cubans held firemen and police off with submachine guns, reportedly while the Cubans destroyed documents.

And in 1954, the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa burned to the ground after officials refused to allow firefighters to fight the fire.

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