Bright orange flames and a thick plume of black smoke created a dramatic scene in Gjoa Haven on March 26 as a fire destroyed the community government building.
“It looked bad,” Tony Akoak, MP for Gjoa Haven, said of the devastating emergency. “It was horrible to see.”
The ensuing stampede has caused some GN services that were previously housed in the 6,400 square foot building to change procedures while other services are temporarily suspended.
The fire broke out on Saturday afternoon. Fire Chief Hector Nargyak issued a public plea to residents to stay away from the intense blaze as the volunteer brigade waited for the building’s fuel tank to “calm down”.
Nargyak informed the community that night that the fire was out of control and would be left burning on the advice of the Deputy Fire Marshal.
“We were told to let it go,” he said, adding that the RCMP would provide nighttime security at the site.
Akoak praised the firefighters’ efforts.
“I’m so happy with the firefighters…they were on fire for over 12 hours. They must be pretty tired,” he said. “They couldn’t save the building, but at least they kept everyone safe.”
Mayor Megan Porter also applauded everyone who worked “tirelessly”.
“Our local fire department and municipal services staff worked very hard to control the fire, although a number of them are dealing with their own personal situations of loss and bereavement. To the RCMP and Hamlet staff who assisted with ground control, communications and evacuation notices, Hamlet staff, volunteers and the Northern Store who assisted with food and beverage preparation, and the public for diligently following advice to avoid the area when asked to do so then, thank you,” Porter said. “Although the building may be a total loss, our community came together in a time of need, regardless of our individual situations and indifferences. I am very proud of each of you. No lives were lost, no serious injuries were sustained.
The building – opened in 1999 and located in a central part of the community, near the high school and the arena – was a workplace for 10 employees in various GN departments and was a “telecommunications center”, containing Gjoa Haven’s main fiber optic connection, workstations, community data center, servers and telephony and videoconferencing services, according to Community and Government Services (CGS). On March 28, CGS Minister David Joanasie expressed his gratitude to employees working to restore services and to residents for their “continued flexibility during this difficult time.” He added that additional staff and resources would be sent to the community.
The GN was assessing internal and external losses following last week’s fire and would introduce work-from-home measures, if possible, in the meantime, according to the minister. The Community Continuing Care Center will temporarily serve as the home for the main data center. Network operations should be restored by March 31 while infrastructure, servers and backup restores should be restored by April 1, CGS noted.
The last condition assessment of the government building was conducted on December 22, 2017, according to CGS.
The CGS said the Nunavut Fire Marshal’s Office was investigating the fire and had no comment on a possible cause as of March 30.
The March 28 update from the GN said the Department of Education would partner with the District Education Authority to establish a temporary fire watch for the two schools, effective March 28.
Ministry of Economic Development and Transportation:
– In-person motor vehicle services in Gjoa Haven are suspended, including the issuance of driver’s licenses, general identification cards and driving tests.
– Residents of Gjoa Haven can visit www.gov.nu.ca/motorvehicles or email MotorVehicles@gov.nu.ca regarding driver’s license renewals, general ID card renewals, and license renewals. vehicle registration; requests for driving records, vehicle searches and accident reports.
Department of Health:
– The Community Health Center will operate with some service reductions due to the unavailability of landlines, fax machines and digital services such as Meditech. The department is sending laptops and data keys to reconnect staff to Meditech and other digital services.
– Staff will continue to provide services and respond to community needs using cell phones and paper maps.
– Diagnostic imaging is continuing, but there may be a delay in physician review until digital services are restored.
Department of Education:
– Devices previously issued to Gjoa Haven School staff for use during the Covid-19 closures will be available for staff to access GN messaging and the Student Information System.
Department of Justice:
– Delays may be expected for certain services, including financial processing, legal aid application and legal aid approval processes.
Department of Family Services:
– To access the Family Wellness Division in Gjoa Haven, please call 867-222-3906 to get in touch with a custodial social worker or 1-844-392-4453 to get in touch with the scale contact of the territory.
– To contact an income assistance worker in Gjoa Haven, please call 867-202-4194 or 1-800-661-0845 to reach the regional office.
– As of April, income assistance will revert to regular contributions. Clients can come to the Income Support office to speak to staff and complete the necessary paperwork. Payments will be issued remotely from the regional office and will be available directly in store.