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Four months on, no official word on what caused highrise fire

Hay River's highrise is pictured in the summer of 2018
Hay River's highrise is pictured in the summer of 2018. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

There are no insights into the RCMP major crimes unit’s investigation of a fire at Hay River’s highrise, more than four months after the incident occurred.

More than 100 people were displaced following a fire in an 11th-floor apartment of the building on March 15.

The building has been off-limits to its residents since that day. Many have abandoned hope of returning to the highrise, despite the building owner’s insistence it will soon be repaired and functional.

On Monday, RCMP told Cabin Radio they had no update on their investigation into the fire.



“The investigation … is still ongoing and no new information can be released at this time,” police said by email.

Pressed by Cabin Radio to explain why no information can be shared, spokesperson Julie Plourde said: “Every investigation is unique in the challenges it may present, and the time required to complete them is based on many factors, including: the nature and complexity of the allegations, the number of individuals involved, the number of witnesses that need to be interviewed as well as their availability and location, [and] the characteristics of the evidence trail.

“In order to protect the integrity of the investigation, the evidence obtained, and the privacy of those involved, the RCMP generally would not comment during the course of an investigation.”

It is unusual for a high-profile case of this nature to remain almost a complete mystery, at least to the public, for this long.



Initial speculation in March that arson may have been a factor in the fire has been neither confirmed nor denied by police.

RCMP said they could not predict when more information may become available.

Belongings remain

Meanwhile, the building’s management shared a notice online and in Hay River last week advising “all former tenants [that] the company is no longer responsible to store tenants’ uncollected personal belongings and is absolved of all its responsibility in this respect.”

The note suggested former tenants had received “several opportunities” to remove belongings – many of them damaged by water or smoke from the fire – but items remained inside the building.

“Please be advised that uncollected belongings will be disposed of at tenants’ costs,” the notice read.

It was not clear how Harry Satdeo, the owner of the building, intended to collect any such costs.

In April, Yellowknife lawyer Caroline Wawzonek said the sheer scale of damage to the building meant no contract could continue to exist between Satdeo and the highrise tenants.

“Once there’s a fire, the contract between the landlord and the renter or tenant is what we call frustrated … meaning it can’t be performed,” said Wawzonek at the time.



“The person can’t live there and the landlord can’t provide the home, so the agreement that they had between them is now essentially deemed to be done.”

In line with that assessment, the notice issued by the building’s management makes a point of referring to “former tenants.”

The NWT Residential Tenancies Act allows landlords in many instances to sell possessions abandoned inside buildings, but appears to provide no mechanism for cost recovery – even in ordinary circumstances, without an uninhabitable building as a complicating factor.

Last week’s notice drew derision from residents online.

“Sorry, but after most of my belongings got soaked due to living right below the fire, no way I was going to enter my apartment again to get sick from the mould,” one former tenant wrote.