A major fire has ripped through a family housing complex on Yellowknife’s 54 Avenue.

Fire spread through the YWCA’s Rockhill apartment building with extraordinary speed in the early hours of Tuesday.

By 8am, the fire looked to have consumed the majority of the 33-unit building. Residents of surrounding buildings reported being asked to evacuate.

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The City of Yellowknife said it was first called to the fire at 5am. Fire crews, municipal enforcement officers, RCMP, public works crews, and even the airport fire service were scrambled to the scene.

At least one ambulance was in attendance, though no casualties were reported. John Fredericks, the fire chief, told the CBC the fire began in a ground-floor unit but spread rapidly owing to the building’s age and condition.

In a statement, the City of Yellowknife said the cause of the fire had not been determined and an investigation by the territory’s fire marshal had been requested.

An emergency shelter has been created at the Fieldhouse for displaced residents. All programs at the Fieldhouse are cancelled and the facility is closed to the public until further notice.

More: YWCA, urgently rehoming families, pleads for cash only

In a statement at 9am, RCMP asked the public to avoid 54 Avenue between 49 Street and 52 Street “while efforts to put the fire out continue.” At 10am the remains of the building continued to smoulder under the close attention of fire crews, with much of the site appearing to be reduced to rubble.

The Rockhill apartments, at 4904 54 Avenue, provide transitional housing for families. Alayna Ward, speaking on behalf of the YWCA, said all 33 units were full.

‘Crisis mode’

In a short statement posted online, the YWCA said: “We experienced a fire at our main YWCA office and transitional housing facility.

“Our focus right now is on getting families re-housed. We will update with further information as it becomes available.”

 

Ward said the organization was looking at short-term options for those families displaced by the fire.

“We’re in a bit of a crisis mode right now, we’re looking at different ideas,” she told Cabin Radio.

The fire has also affected the offices of approximately 10 YWCA staff, including its senior executives, and is hampering access to files of those families involved.

Hawa Dumbuya-Sesay, the YWCA’s director of child and youth services, said after-school programming was suspended for the foreseeable future.

“Parents of after-school at the YWCA – no programming today, not sure this week,” she said in a call to Cabin Radio. “We’ll have to try to figure something out. Everything is on fire.”

If you are looking to help

Yellowknife residents have already begun looking for opportunities to help families affected by Tuesday’s fire.

Posting on Twitter, Julie Green – the MLA for Yellowknife Centre – recalled the difficult task of managing efforts to help in the aftermath of a 2015 fire which destroyed Yellowknife’s Polaris apartment building and the homes of 17 families.

A photo submitted by Janis O'Keefe shows the partially destroyed Rockhill apartment building after a fire on October 2, 2018
A photo submitted by Janis O’Keefe shows the partially destroyed Rockhill apartment building after a fire on October 2, 2018.

“I helped with the relief effort after Polaris burned in 2015. We were quickly overwhelmed with donations of clothes which turned into a management problem,” Green tweeted.

She recommended making a tax-deductible donation to the YWCA via Canada Helps as the most helpful means of contributing. The YWCA has since set up a dedicated Rockhill fire fund to which you can donate.

Donate: Give money to the YWCA online via Canada Helps

Renee Sanderson, operator of Yellowknife organization Pay It Forward NWT, said the YWCA was working on a donation drop-off area and more details would follow.

On Facebook, the YWCA said: “We don’t have the capacity to accept items right now. We will be in a position to coordinate donations in one to two days.”

The Yellowknife Co-op said it had set up donation codes at its tills to help families affected by the fire. “Proceeds will go to the YWCA for distribution to those affected,” the Co-op said in a tweet.

‘Time to step up’

“Our thoughts go out to everyone affected by the fire at the Rockhill apartments this morning,” Yellowknife’s mayor, Mark Heyck, posted online.

Adrian Bell, a candidate for mayor of Yellowknife in this month’s election, wrote: “This is a crisis of unimaginable magnitude.

“All three levels of government, and the community at large, need to come together to house these families until the GNWT can replace these transitional housing units,” he continued.

“It’s time to step up and help these people.”

 

Cory Vanthuyne, the MLA for Yellowknife North, wrote: “My heart, thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected in this morning’s devastating fire at Rockhill apartments.

“Thank you to the many first responders for your commitment and incredible work. As Yellowknifers always do, it’s time to come together to help those in need.”

The Rockhill building’s fire access plan, published on the City of Yellowknife’s website, appears to suggest the complex did not have a functional sprinkler system.

The building is identified as being of Type 5 construction, meaning mostly made of wood.

Fire Rescue magazine describes Type 5 as “found in many modern homes. The walls and roofs are made of combustible materials – most commonly wood. If the walls are wood-framed, the roof usually is as well.”

The building is listed as having six standpipes to which fire hoses can be attached – two per floor.

A fire burns at the Rockhill apartment complex on Yellowknife's 54 Avenue
A fire burns at the Rockhill apartment complex on Yellowknife’s 54 Avenue. Scott Letkeman/Cabin Radio
A fire burns at the Rockhill apartment complex on Yellowknife's 54 Avenue
A fire burns at the Rockhill apartment complex on Yellowknife’s 54 Avenue. Scott Letkeman/Cabin Radio
A fire burns at the Rockhill apartment complex on Yellowknife's 54 Avenue
A fire burns at the Rockhill apartment complex on Yellowknife’s 54 Avenue. Scott Letkeman/Cabin Radio