Faulty bathroom fan to blame for fire at Yellowknife Catholic School Board office

A fire on March 15, 2018, at the Yellowknife Catholic School Board office originated in a bathroom ceiling fan that had been left on overnight after staff had gone home, according to the N.W.T. fire marshal’s investigation report. 

N.W.T. fire marshal says bathroom ceiling fans should be replaced at least every 15 years

A fire at Yellowknife Catholic Schools' board office in 2018 was caused by a bathroom ceiling fan that was left on overnight, CBC News has learned. (CBC)

A faulty bathroom fan was at fault for a fire that caused significant damage at the Yellowknife Catholic School Board office in 2018, CBC News has learned. 

A fire in the early morning hours of March 15, 2018 originated in a bathroom ceiling fan that had been left on overnight after staff had gone home, according to the N.W.T. fire marshal's investigation report obtained by CBC through an access to information request. 

Chucker Dewar is the territory's fire marshal. He said this is the second fire in Yellowknife caused by a bathroom fan in the past few years, and that he has seen this "a few times" throughout his career.

"These are located in virtually every residence in the N.W.T.," Dewar said. "Hence the necessity for people to understand the risk, take mitigation measures to prevent it from occurring, make sure they have functioning smoke alarms, and understand that for an electrical device the way to put it out is not to throw water at it because water's conductive," he said. 

"The best way to put out any kind of electrical fire is to simply shut off the power to the device." 

A bathroom ceiling fan similar to this one caused a fire at the Yellowknife Catholic Schools' office in Yellowknife on March 15, 2018, according to incident reports obtained by CBC. (Office of the Fire Marshal investigation report)

General maintenance on bathroom fans, including cleaning and monitoring for strange sounds and smells, could prevent fires, Dewar said. 

He also cautioned people to not leave them running while unattended and to replace bathroom ceiling fans every 15 years. 

The fire at the Yellowknife Catholic School Board office caused about $500,000 damage to the building, according to the Yellowknife Fire Division's report on the incident. 

School board staff were displaced from their offices for several months. 

But things could have been much worse. The bathroom where the fire originated was being used as a storage room instead of its intended purpose, and held papers and other combustibles that caused the fire to spread quickly, the report states. 

Dewar credited the firefighters at the scene for extinguishing the blaze before it spread beyond the second floor of the office. 

"Once the fire department got there, they were dealing with a pretty significant and dangerous event — quite a hostile environment for a firefighter to face," he said. "They did a fantastic job at their fire attack and limiting the amount of damage. 

"That gave the Office of the Fire Marshal the opportunity to investigate the fire. Quite often, we can't determine the cause of the fire, and that's largely due to the loss of evidence." 

The building also contains two apartments, stated the fire marshal's report.