Miranda Krista was just relaxing, making herself a snack in her kitchen around 7 p.m. on June 6 when her entire home was suddenly enveloped in smoke.
“We had to run for evacuation because of the smoke,” she said. “My house was in all the smoke. You couldn’t see even the road or park from my kitchen window. I was so scared I didn’t know what to do. The saddest part is it had to happen when the playground was packed with kids.
“Everyone needs to know how much danger fire can do. Not only for the burning building but for the families, children and elders near the area.”
She and her two children quickly evacuated, only to find the entire neighbourhood was engulfed in smoke billowing out of an abandoned row house, which was ignited in an inferno on Kugmalit Road next to the local playground. They weren’t able to return home until after 10 p.m.
The row house has been an ongoing concern for residents in the area for some time. The building’s owner is Talal Khatib, a long time Inuvik resident currently out of town.
With over $750,000 in unpaid back taxes, the town was looking at purchasing the building on a tax sale. However, because the building contains lead paint and asbestos, at the time the town was informed it would cost over $1 million before the building could be brought down. It has been unoccupied since 2012.
Protective Services director Cynthia Hammond said 19 firefighters and five vehicles were deployed to combat the fire and had the fire under control as of 10:06 p.m. She added the department was assisted by RCMP, paramedics from AMS, Municipal Enforcement, Inuvik Gas and Northwest Power Corporation.
RCMP evacuated homes in the path of the smoke, though one bystander was treated for smoke inhalation, however no injuries were reported in the fire.
Hammond added the building was demolished after the fire based on an examination of the structural integrity of the building.
“There was a significant potential for collapse,” she said. “This was due to a number of factors including: supporting structural members in multiple areas of the building being severely fire damaged; roof integrity compromised due to fire breaching it in several areas; and a significant amount of water that was used inside the building, all of which combined to add more weight and pressure to already weakened pilings, exterior walls, floor areas and staircases.
“For the building to remain standing in that condition, it would have created a life safety hazard for any personnel working inside the building. Additionally, there was potential for an uncontrolled collapse to impact adjacent infrastructure including gas distribution and utilidor systems.”
A plan is now underway to remove the debris safely.
Hammond said the cause of the fire was still under investigation in coordination with Inuvik RCMP.
Another resident, Danielle Nokadlak, who had to evacuate with her three young children, asked parents to have a serious talk with their children about fire safety.
“I was home alone with my 3 youngest, aged five, two and two months, when the fire broke out behind my home in Talal units,” she said. “I can’t even describe the terror I had.
“Please, from the bottom of my heart, teach your children, your nieces and nephews, every child, that fire is dangerous and not to be played with.”
Town senior administrative officer Grant Hood said the decision to bring down the building was made after a discussion between the Fire Chief, Director of Public Services and himself. He noted the town is not planning to purchase the property.
“Nearby residents were moved away from the site and the fire fighters took the normal precaution using breathing apparatus,” he said. “We have hosed down the play ground. At this time there is very little exposure from dust.”
Hood added the town planned to begin cleaning up the site within a day or two and was in contact with the Workers Compensation and Safety Commission to establish a plan to water down the debris as it is collect. Material will be taken to the solid waste landfill where it will be buried immediately. The burial site will be marked with a GPS co-ordinate to prevent it being accidentally excavated in the future.