'Please don't panic:' Nunavut community under state of emergency after store fire

A Nunavut community was under a state of emergency Wednesday after a fire destroyed one of its grocery and retail stores.

Photos on social media from Igloolik, a community of about 1,600, showed orange flames and black smoke bursting from the Arctic Co-op store.

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Another photo showed the store's structure slumped on the ground.

In a statement, Igloolik Mayor Merlyn Recinos assured the community it would not run out of food. He said the town's only other grocery store, the Northern Store, would bring in extra product.

"Orders will be bulked up to ensure the community has enough," Recinos said. "Our community is now under a state of emergency.

"Please don't panic."

Recinos said airlines have agreed to give priority to food bound for Igloolik. Prices will be frozen at the Northern Store and flyers with coupons will be distributed to the community, he said.

Qaatani Sarpinak, a town resident, said he saw ammunition exploding and vapour coming from propane tanks inside the Co-op store.

Nunavut RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Tammy Lobb said police in Igloolik were called to the scene around 3:45 a.m.

Firefighters were still battling the blaze, supported by RCMP and members of the Canadian Rangers, in the late-morning. A firefighter crew from Iqaluit was on its way to help, Recinos said.

Recinos said several housing units around the store had to be evacuated. Those who were forced to leave were able to go to the community hall for shelter, food and warmth, he said. A nursing station was being set up at the community hall to check people for smoke inhalation.

The mayor asked residents to avoid the area around the burning store because of dangerous goods.

Duane Wilson, vice-president of stakeholder relations with Arctic Co-operatives, said it was too early to tell what caused the fire, but no one was hurt. The damage is extensive, he added.

"Our primary focus is ensuring the continuity of essential services such as fuel delivery and the ability to resume a degree of retail and financial services for the community," Wilson said in a statement.

An emergency response team had assembled at the Co-op to support urgent needs, he said.

Lena Ijjangiaq, who lives in Igloolik, said she fled her home and went live on her Facebook page to share footage of the fire as it continued to burn in the near darkness.

"It's serious. It's scary. Tell your kids and grandkids to stay home," she can be heard saying.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2021.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship

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