Igloolik mayor calls state of emergency as grocery store fire continues

Igloolik's mayor is calling a state of emergency as flames continue to engulf the Co-Op building. The fire started Tuesday night.

Co-Op building gutted in overnight fire, more firefighters on their way from Iqaluit

The Co-Op in Igloolik, Nunavut, burns. Arctic Co-Operatives Ltd. says it's too early to say the cause of the fire or the extent of the damage, but said it is 'extensive.' (Submitted by Julian Blow)

Igloolik's mayor is calling a state of emergency as a fire continues at the Arctic Co-Op building. The store became engulfed in flames early Wednesday morning and community reports say it was still burning late Wednesday afternoon. 

Firefighters flew from Iqaluit to relieve emergency crews in Igloolik, a Qikiqtaaluk community of around 1,700 people. 

"Our community is now under state of emergency and have activated all protocols," Mayor Merlyn Recinos said in a noon-hour update on the community's Facebook news page.

"Please don't panic, we are not going to be running out of food, we have a plan in place," he wrote.

Crew from the Qulliq Energy Corporation also flew to the community by charter to fix power outages. 

Housing units around the store were evacuated for safety. 

"The community hall will continue to service as shelter and will be providing soup and sandwiches," Recinos said. "We are also going to have a station for people to get checked for smoke inhalation."

Equipment for gas will be set up at the C-Store, a community convenience store. 

No serious injuries, cause still unknown 

On Wednesday morning, Arctic Co-Operatives vice-president Duane Wilson said no injuries have been reported, and the company's emergency response team was activated.

Wilson said the company will be working to ensure key community services, like fuel delivery, remain intact.

"Any speculation about the cause or full extent of the damage is premature, but it appears to be extensive," Wilson said in a statement Wednesday morning. 

"Thankfully, there are no reports of injuries or fatalities."

But the community has set up a health station for people who inhaled smoke.

Firefighters work Wednesday morning to quell flames that have gutted the Co-Op in Igloolik. (Submitted by Julian Blow)

Cause of fire unknown, RCMP say it's not yet suspicious

Fire investigators also flew to the community on Wednesday, according to the RCMP. The Office of the Fire Marshal will investigate the cause of the fire, which is unknown. 

"The investigation is still in its early stages and has not been deemed suspicious at this time," Nunavut RCMP said in a Wednesday afternoon release. 

Recinos said he will continue to update residents online. 

"Today is a sad day for our community," Recinos wrote in a post Thursday morning. "Our fire department and Public Works are working hard to battle the flames, and they are being supported by RCMP and [Canadian] Rangers for crowd control."

An Igloolik resident submitted photos of the community grocery store burning overnight. The Co-Op confirmed the fire was still burning Wednesday morning. (Submitted by Steve Qaatani Sarpinak)

Recinos said the hamlet has already met with staff at the community's other grocery store, the Northern Store, to make sure enough food essentials will be ordered and prioritized by the airlines.

Prices are supposed to stay as they are now, he said.

The municipality is asking all residents to stay away from the area because there are dangerous goods in the store.

The municipality says the store holds dangerous goods and is asking residents to stay away. (Submitted by Steve Qaatani Sarpinak)

More than a store, residents say 

The Co-Op store is a place for community to gather, and offers many essential services. 

"The Co-Op is so much more than a grocery store. We get our gas and fuel there, our cable, many people have their savings account there," Igloolik resident Tanya Haulli said on social media.

"We're not just dealing with a loss of a grocery store. No, this is much more than economical damage and loss. I'm so heartbroken," she said.

In Nunavut communities, grocery stores also act as banks. 

Residents also receive dividends for being members of the Co-Op. 

"The Co-Op was one of the two main stores we had. The main concern probably is food shortage. There's many hunters who need gas and ammunition to go out on the land," Haulli told CBC News. 

Resident Terry Uyarak said the building is destroyed. 

"They tried their best to extinguish the fire when it started but it spread too much. Now the old Co-Op and the new part of it is completely gone, it's all collapsed now," he said. 

One question residents have is, what will happen to the people who worked at the Co-Op, a primary employer in the community. 

"A lot of people lost their jobs today," Uyarak said. 

With files from Nick Murray