Cape Dorset fire leaves Nunavut government officials scrambling

Community members in Cape Dorset, Nunavut, say they are devastated after a fire ripped through Peter Pitseolak High School over the weekend, burning it to the ground. Meanwhile, the Nunavut government is working on a plan to house students for the school year.

Blaze knocked out power, some telecommunications in South Baffin hamlet

Firefighters battle a blaze that destroyed the school used by about 150 students and 22 staff. (submitted)

Officials in Nunavut are figuring out what to do in the wake of a fire that ripped through Peter Pitseolak High School in Cape Dorset over the weekend, burning it to the ground.

People in the hamlet of 1,400 on the south end of Baffin Island say they are devastated by the loss of the school, which served as a focal point of the community.

"We are very heartbroken by this tragedy because [the school] is an important part of us and it's huge," said resident Quuju Ragee. "We are very touched as people of Cape Dorset. The school that we've been to is all gone now."

The cause has not yet been determined and RCMP have not said if they've made any arrests in connection with the fire.

Officials coming up with plan

South Baffin MLA David Joanasie met with Education Department officials today in Cape Dorset to discuss what to do in the aftermath of the fire. 

The community has an elementary school, and a community hall, but it's not clear yet if classes will move to one of those buildings, or when classes will resume. Joanasie was in meetings all afternoon and not available for comment.

The Education Department said it would issue a plan for students Monday night.

"They'll probably split it up from the other school and community hall. They are going to have to hold school somewhere," said Fred Schell, a former mayor and MLA. 

Schell feels the fire is a big step backwards for the community.

"We are in a situation here in Dorset, which we have been for a while, where we need a new power plant and we need a new health centre. I can guarantee those things will be put on hold because this will be priority now."

Schell said it's too late to bring in supplies by boat to rebuild the school this year.

Paul Quassa, Nunavut's Minister of Education, offered a statement on Facebook.

"Losing a school in any of our communities is devastating, especially for our students, teachers, parents who look forward each school year to have a successful year. We will do everything to ensure our students have schooling and space."

Power, communications knocked out

Fire fighters were called to the school about 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning. The fire burned all night, engulfing the school in flames. A plume of black smoke loomed over the community most of Sunday.

By about 1 p.m., only one wall of the school was left standing. The rest of the building was rubble. Nobody was injured in the fire.

In a news release, the Government of Nunavut said the fire also knocked out all GN telecommunications to the hamlet.

The government also said the fire forced the evacuation of the nearby health centre and several houses. Patients from the health centre were moved to a nearby elementary school, but have since returned.

The fire also knocked out power to the hamlet for about an hour on Sunday. By Monday, two buildings were still without power, though the government said power should be completely restored by the evening.

Peter Pitseolak school in Cape Dorset, Nunavut, caught fire late Saturday. (submitted)

With files from Jordan Konek, Mitch Wiles and Chris Windeyer


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