Fire forces Hay River highrise evacuation, no injuries reported

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Residents were evacuated from Hay River's highrise as the building burned in a Friday afternoon fire.

Those displaced were directed to Hay River's recreation centre for assistance.

Judy Goucher, the Town's senior administrative officer, said no injuries had been reported.

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The fire began just before 2:30pm and was under control by 3:30pm. As of 7pm, the fire was reported extinguished.

Residents will not be allowed back into the building on Friday, nor has any date for a possible return to the building been given.

Those displaced will be able to stay at the recreation centre.

A meeting for those affected by the fire is to be held in the community hall at the recreation centre on Saturday at 12pm, with lunch provided. Representatives from the NWT fire marshal's office and other agencies will be there to answer questions.

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The GNWT's South Slave Regional Service Centre will be open from 8:30am until 5pm on Saturday to help residents who require emergency financial assistance. The office is located at the courthouse.

Anyone displaced by the fire who requires immediate emergency accommodation should call the Town of Hay River at 867-874-6522.

The Town said a "public donations strategy" is being developed, and needs will be discussed with those impacted at Saturday's meeting.

The local Anglican Church and thrift store is accepting donations and handing out vouchers to people impacted.

The cause of the fire could not be immediately confirmed. However, one of the building's residents – who gave her name as Rachel Martel – told Hay River community radio station CKHR she had spoken with a tenant from the apartment in which the fire started.

"The girl thinks it's arson," said Martel, referring to the tenant. "She heard her door close and she yelled down the hall [of her apartment]. She said, ‘Hello? Hello?’

"Then she heard her door close again and, when she went down the hall, her closet was on fire."

The account could not be corroborated. RCMP are yet to comment on the fire. Goucher said she had no information regarding the cause of the fire.

Multiple residents of the building identified the fire as having started on the 11th floor, though this was not confirmed by the authorities.

At the fire's height, bright, orange flame could be seen emerging from windows in the upper six floors amid clouds of black smoke.

GNWT 'in contact'

In a post to Facebook, the Town of Hay River said staff were helping to register evacuees and identify those who require additional clothing or have other needs. Food and drinks were being arranged.

Evacuees were also able to register pets missing, or left behind in the highrise, at the recreation centre.

Heather Tybring, from Hay River's animal shelter, said volunteers had been handing out leashes and collars to help residents safely evacuate with their pets.

"We’re just setting up a bunch of emergency kennels," Tybring told Cabin Radio, adding residents "can bring [their] dog or cat in if you don’t have a place for it to go and you’re affected by the fire."

The NWT's Department of Municipal and Community Affairs said it was working with the Town to determine its needs.

"Until we know the full scope of the damage and the impact on residents, we won’t be able to confirm what assistance is necessary," said spokesperson Jay Boast.

"We are in contact, though, and we will know more about what is needed as time progresses. At this point the primary focus is on the safety of the residents and the responders."

The 17-story building, which houses 80 units, is the tallest of its kind in the Northwest Territories.

The building is owned by Harry Satdeo, whose company was fined $10,000 in 2017 over building code violations related to its balconies – which have been off-limits to residents since 2014.

Satdeo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hay River is already battling a major landfill fire over which the Town declared a local emergency last weekend.

Officials said the Town had ensured sufficient resources were set aside to deal with other emergencies such as this one while the landfill blaze continues to burn.

At 9:30pm on Friday, the Town said it had "made progress" on the landfill fire with a new, constant water supply from the river. Yellowknife fire crews also arrived in Hay River on Friday to help at the landfill.

With files from Adam Aylward, CKHR

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