In aftermath of Hay River fire, Nam Truong gets his shoes back

Nam Truong was happy to discover important travel documents, and his new shoes, were in fine condition after Hay River's highrise fire one week ago.

Displaced residents briefly returned to their units after a fire in the Hay River highrise last week

Nam Truong and others were allowed brief re-entry to their apartment building following a fire last week. Truong was able to recover his family's important travel documents, as well as his new Nike sneakers. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

It's been a week since a unit in Nam Truong's apartment building dramatically erupted in flames.

Truong, 17, and his family moved from Vietnam to Hay River in August of 2018. His parents made the journey to open a nail salon in the Northwest Territories community of about 3,500.

They were among the more than 100 tenants displaced until authorities see fit to let residents move back in. The timing of that remains open-ended, largely falling to the building's owner to make repairs and bring the structure up to code before that can happen.

Truong and his family are applying for permanent residency in Canada. His family's vital travel documents and immigration paperwork were in a knapsack left behind when the building was evacuated.

Also left behind: new pairs of Nike sneakers he had saved up for.

At a community meeting after the fire, Truong expressed concern for the safety of his and his family's important belongings, and stressed the importance of getting the travel documents back.

He had good reason to be concerned for the safety of the documents; Truong's 12th floor apartment was directly above the unit that caught fire.

The fire appeared to be on the 11th floor of the 17-storey building. Smoke and flames could be seen billowing from a unit at around 3 p.m. Nam Truong's apartment was right above the unit in flames. (Aaron Tambour)

Starting on Wednesday, Truong and others were let back into the building for brief, escorted visits to collect essentials left behind. He and his family had 15 minutes to get in, fill two shopping carts, and get out.

"We got all our immigrant documents … including our passports, work permits and study permits," Truong said. "They were in perfect condition."

Truong, who was airing the smell of smoke out his new Nikes, said the apartment was in a much better state than expected, although re-entering the unit was an unnerving process.

"We had to wear safety equipment to be able to get back into our apartment," Truong said.

The family was able to use the building's elevators, likely a relief from climbing and descending 12 flights of stairs, but the elevator in the building infamous for its lack of maintenance meant another source of anxiety.

"I've got stuck in there, like, a few times," Truong said.

"But I'm kind of used to it."

The entire 17 storey building remains closed because of structural, smoke and water damage from the fire and the effort to extinguish it. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Written by Walter Strong, with files from Kirsten Murphy