Canadian authorities on Saturday estimated at 32 the probable death toll from the fire that burned down a home for seniors last Thursday in Quebec province, given that 8 bodies have been recovered and 24 people are still missing.

Until Saturday the Quebec police said that around 30 people were missing and had hopes that some residents of the seniors' home were elsewhere when the fire broke out.

But at a press conference on Saturday, Quebec police Lieut. Guy Lapointe said "I think we can all agree here today, that the 24 people that are still missing - I think we can assume the worst, but you have to understand that we're not going to confirm any deaths until we've actually recovered the remains," a challenging task given the extreme meteorological conditions.

The fire at the Residence du Havre institution in the small town of L'Isle-Verte, some 450 kilometers (280 miles) northeast of Montreal, broke out before dawn on Thursday when temperatures were down around -20 C (-4 F).

The building, which has 52 units for elderly residents and was made of wood, rapidly turned into an inferno from which only 20 people could escape, despite the efforts of firefighters and residents' family members.

The thousands of liters of water used by firefighters to control the flames froze in just a few hours into a thick layer of ice covering not only the ruins of the seniors' home but also the bodies of the victims.

The intense cold, which has plunged to -30 C (-22 F) with the windchill factor, forced rescue teams to work in 45-minute shifts and cease all operations at nightfall.

"Our people are exhausted ... the conditions are very, very difficult," Lapointe said Saturday.

Of the 52 residents at Residence du Havre, 37 are at least 85 years old and many suffer from Alzheimer's or have mobility problems. EFE