RCMP shared more information about Tuesday’s fire at a Yellowknife apartment complex as the territory’s fire marshal opened an investigation.
The fire consumed most of the 33-unit Rockhill building on 54 Avenue, used by the YWCA as transitional housing for families.
Heavy equipment brought in by the fire department had reduced much of the Rockhill building to rubble by Tuesday afternoon, for the safety of emergency responders, investigators, and the public.
The YWCA said it had rehoused all affected families by 1pm – 21 of which were accommodated by Northview Property REIT, while others found room with family and friends.
Please continue to donate online, the YWCA said, saying it cannot yet handle donations of furniture or clothing.
The NWT’s fire marshal, meanwhile, asked anyone with any information about the fire to contact his office on (867) 767-9161.
Police officer hospitalized
In a news release on Tuesday afternoon, police described arriving on the scene at 5am and immediately beginning an evacuation alongside firefighters.
“RCMP members participated in the evacuation efforts, entered the building and forcibly entered a unit to determine the status of the residents,” the statement read.
“Numerous persons were cleared from the main floor hallway and members continued to assist in clearing the building.
“During these events, one member suffered smoke inhalation and was transported to Stanton Territorial Hospital for medical assessment. The member has since been released.”
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RCMP said everyone believed to live in the building has now been accounted for.
Inspector Alex Laporte, commander of the Yellowknife detachment, said the fire spread so rapidly that first responders were forced to work “collaboratively and quickly” to ensure everyone’s safety.
“We are thankful that our members and responders were not seriously injured and that the residents were able to get out safely,” he said.
“We are very sorry for those who were affected by today’s fire and will continue to work with our community partners to support them.”
Scene ‘not safe’ for investigators
Chucker Dewar, the NWT’s fire marshal, told Cabin Radio his office is in “the very early stages” of investigating how Tuesday’s fire happened.
“The scene is currently not safe for our office to initiate a scene investigation, so we will be focusing our efforts on conducting interviews with emergency responders and obtaining statements from eyewitnesses and tenants,” said Dewar.
“We will secure the scene and have brought in some additional resources to assist with the investigation component.”
Once the heavy equipment has finished its work on-site, Dewar said his team “will assess what remains, to determine what scope of our investigation is possible.”
The Rockhill building’s fire access plan, available on the City of Yellowknife’s website, shows the complex was of wood construction and appeared to lack a sprinkler system.
Dewar said that is consistent with the building code for the period in which Rockhill was built.
“A building of that age would have a fire alarm system. I don’t think, in the case of Rockhill, it was required to have a sprinkler system,” he said.
“There would be emergency lighting, smoke detectors, heat detectors, fire extinguishers, things of that nature.
“Can everybody get out of the building based on the size and the area of the building – that is the kind of thing that’s considered.
“A sprinkler system is not put in a structure to extinguish the fire, specifically; it’s put in to hold the fire in a specific location, allowing more time for the occupants to escape.”
Keep donations online
All of the affected families were gathered at the Fieldhouse on Tuesday afternoon as YWCA workers made them as comfortable as possible, paired families up with keys to new apartments, and began the process of finding furniture.
“Right now, it’s all systems go at the Fieldhouse. All families have been housed, either with family and friends or with Northview – which is absolutely fantastic,” said Alayna Ward, YWCA’s director of community relations.
“We have incredible staff, and we have incredible people in Yellowknife. What can I say?”
Ward reiterated the YWCA’s request that donations remain online-only for the time being.
“I hope people can appreciate we are really stretched right now, with our resources,” she said.
“We can’t process any physical donations, in particular clothes. We don’t have the capacity to sort through them.
“We are still asking people to donate online. That way we can free up funds immediately for families to buy the essentials, what they need. We may be looking for furniture donations at a later point but we do not have those details solidified yet.”
Birchwood Coffee Kǫ̀ became the latest Yellowknife business to join fundraising efforts. The coffee shop is accepting cash donations on behalf of the YWCA, as is the Yellowknife Co-op.