Emergency response group rallies to ensure Iqaluit fire containment and food supply

by Michele LeTourneau- November 8, 2018

Five firefighters began the job of containing the early-morning blaze that continued burning throughout the day at Iqaluit’s NorthMart warehouse.

By 2 p.m. the warehouse had been demolished and the main grocery area was to be inspected to determine the state of the building.

Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo
Crews worked to demolish the NorthMart warehouse at noon Nov. 8, and protect the Iqaluit Elders Home and the main NorthMart store from fire.

At the fire’s peak, fire chief Nelson Johnson said at an 11 a.m. news conference, 18 firefighters were on the scene.

“The fire had gotten up to the attic space in the warehouse. We made a couple of interior attacks and the fire kind of pushed us back to the exterior. We’ve contained it so far to the one warehouse area, which is also housing the furniture store,” said Johnson.

The main store remained unaffected, he added, except for some smoke and water damage, as sprinklers did go off. He also said the building was without power all night, which could affect perishable foods.

“We had other people in the community come and help us, such as the airport fire. They’ve come to offer a crash unit to help with fire suppression,” he said, adding the Office of the Fire Marshal also supplied five personnel to help.

Frank Reardon photo
Firefighters work to contain the blaze at the Iqaluit NorthMart.

“To help relieve our guys because our guys have been out there since 10 o’clock … when this all started for us.”

The city’s fire department received four other calls in the night beginning at 10:00 p.m. – three vehicle fires and a vacant house – aside from the NorthMart fire. The NorthMart fire was called in at 1:40 a.m. Johnson could not say if the fires were related, as they continue to be under investigation.

Two excavators were brought to the scene.

“Our plan is to knock it down in on itself so that we can save the elders centre, which is right beside it, and we can stop spread to the main grocery store area,” said Johnson.

Elders were evacuated from their residence to the nearby Elder’s Qammaq, and Johnson said when firefighting efforts were completed at the NorthMart, an inspection of the home would take place. Evacuated elders were informed they would be provided with hotel accommodations for the evening. The Canadian Red Cross was also providing support, and the Government of Nunavut was looking into longer term accommodations if needed.

A nurse was on the scene to care for the elders.

Acting chief administrative officer Amy Elgersma said the City of Iqaluit was working closely with government agencies, community groups and retailers to ensure services continued for city residents, all part of a coordinated emergency response.

“We can confirm that there’s enough storage space in town for food and supplies. The retailers have engaged their supply chains, and they’ve already made arrangements to bring additional perishable food,” said Elgersma, echoing Mayor Madeleine Redfern’s early morning message to her Twitter followers.

“City & GN officials have met with retailers about food supply. All our other retailers are confident that they have sufficient food on hand to supply our community needs. There is no need for our residents to panic,” wrote Redfern.

Councillor Kyle Sheppard, the city’s acting mayor, also made an appearance and spoke at city hall, but later took to social media  to assure residents there is no need to stockpile or hoard food.

“Our retailers assure us that they can meet our needs over the coming days. There is no reason to panic whatsoever. Iqaluit is very fortunate to have multiple retailers to supply us in situations like this. The city is working with all levels of government as well as retailers, and any other related groups to ensure a stable supply of necessary goods going forward,” Sheppard stated.

“Please work together and with the city to help ensure that a bad situation doesn’t become worse. Buy only what you need. Share with your neighbours as needed. We will be just fine. Retailers are at the table with officials, they will not be price gouging. They are, and will continue to be good corporate citizens.”

The city did also request that residents continue to conserve water. Water delivery was cancelled for those on trucked service, and residents requiring drinking water could fill containers at the Arctic Winter Games Arena between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Premier Joe Savikataaq kept MLAs and the viewing audience informed, assuring medication would be taken care of. NorthMart houses one of the city’s only pharmacies.

“The Department of Health is assisting with prescriptions, and will be able to store medications at the Qikiqtani General Hospital in the interim,” he said.

Additionally, the Department of Family Services’ income support clients can have their benefits transferred to another store in the interim.

“The GN has cold and heated storage available for food storage, if and when needed.”

Savikataaq also said federal Minister of Intergovernmental and Northern Affairs Dominic LeBlanc contacted him to offer support.

“I will keep him updated on the situation and our needs,” he said.

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