Toronto: A Sikh family-owned motel in Canada has been gutted in a fire that claimed one life while injuring three others as police discovered racist graffiti on the property, raising suspicions of foul play in the incident.
Neighbours reported hearing an explosion and watched flames destroy the Tiwana family-owned Bashaw Motor Inn in the Canadian province of Alberta.
Residents in the town of 870 people have rallied around the Tiwana family, who lived in and operated the motel. More than USD 8,000 has been raised over two days in a fundraising campaign for the family.
Faisal Madi, a neighbour, told CBC News that he will never forget the booming sound of the explosion the night of the deadly Bashaw fire last Sunday or the chilling screams that followed.
Living only metres away, he was at the motel in less than a minute where he found the mother and two sons of the Tiwana family outside the front door.
"Two of them were laying on the ground. One was standing. I tried to pull them away from the fire," Madi said, explaining that all three appeared to have been badly burned.
Both boys were screaming for their father who they said was still inside, he said.
Madi called 911 and after ensuring the boys and their mother were safe.
The father could not be located, leading to the belief that the remains of one person found at the site could be his.
The results of an autopsy, not yet released, will confirm the identity of the deceased and the cause of death.
Police said there was "graffiti damage to property" at the scene of the fire. However, police said investigators have no evidence to suggest the fire and the graffiti are linked.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police later confirmed racist graffiti was found at the property, but have not connected it to the explosion, nor they disclosed what the graffiti said.
The World Sikh Organisation (WSO), Canada, expressed its grave concern over the incident.
The Bashaw Motor Inn is owned and operated by the Tiwana family, who are Punjabi Sikhs. Police have confirmed that a truck near the scene of the fire and a nearby wall were spray painted with racist graffiti, the WSO said in a statement.
WSO Vice President for Alberta Tejinder Singh Sidhu said, "This was a horrific tragedy and we are very concerned by reports that racist graffiti was found on the scene. We have confidence in the RCMP
to fully investigate this matter and ensure that if this was a hate crime those responsible are quickly brought to justice."
The Bashaw Motor Inn is publicly registered to two directors -- Gurprett Tiwana and Barinder Tiwana. A man named Gurjit Dhaliwal sold the property to the Tiwanas in 2010.