Youth charged with arson after Iqaluit Northmart fire

A youth has been charged with arson and disregard for human life in connection to a fire that destroyed the warehouse of Iqaluit's largest grocery store.

RCMP say a second youth was questioned and released

A firefighter inspects the aftermath of a fire that destroyed Northmart's warehouse in Iqaluit on Friday morning. The fire is one of six that were set in the community on Thursday. A youth has been charged. (Patrick Nagle/CBC)

A 17-year-old youth has been charged with arson and disregard for human life in connection with a fire that destroyed the warehouse of Iqaluit's largest grocery store.

The fire was extinguished overnight after raging for 22 hours. No injuries were reported.

RCMP announced Friday morning in a news release that police are working with the Nunavut fire marshal's office and had two youths in custody who faced charges for arson and disregard for human life.

Later in the day, the RCMP confirmed to CBC News that one of the youths had been questioned and released.

The 17-year-old will remain in custody and appear in court Nov. 13.

The names of the youth, which are protected under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, weren't disclosed.

RCMP District Commander Mark Crowther said in the initial release that police and fire personnel "are working diligently to ensure public safety and bring those responsible to justice."

Iqaluit's mayor, Madeleine Redfern, tweeted early Friday that the fire at Iqaluit's Northmart was "largely out" overnight. She said firefighters were able to save the building's main store, though it suffered significant smoke and water damage.

"It will take time to assess and undertake the necessary repairs and replacement of the lost sections of the other buildings," said Redfern. 

A total of six fires burned in the community Thursday, destroying Northmart's warehouse area — where food that comes up by sealift is stored — and threatening nearby elders' residences.

Firefighters from other Nunavut communities, including Pangnirtung and Cape Dorset, flew to Iqaluit on Thursday to support local crews.

Firefighters from the communities of Pangnirtung and Cape Dorset were flown in to help fight the fire. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

After suspending delivery for the day in order to allow crews to fight the fire, Iqaluit's trucked water services resumed Friday morning. However, Redfern says the city is still asking residents to conserve water.

Nutrition North may help hold down prices

The fire led to immediate concerns about food security in Nunavut's capital city, with many concerned about where non-perishable goods would be stored and the cost in shipping them to Iqaluit.

The city's sealift season — barges carrying food and goods for residents — recently ended, and any replacement goods will need to be flown to Iqaluit.

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      "I think the biggest impact that we'll see is a whole year's supply of dry goods, everything they brought in by sealift, is gone," said Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo. "Northmart is the largest retailer in Iqaluit … so all your flour, sugars, diapers, cleaning supplies, canned goods … I'm sure they had all their Christmas stock in, Easter. All that's gone."

      Tootoo says he has spoken with both of Iqaluit's major retailers to ensure prices remain stable in the community. Yesterday, Alex Yeo, the president of Canadian retail for the North West Company, said prices will not rise as a result of the fire.

      However, federal Northern Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc says his office is looking into using the Nutrition North food subsidy program to ensure that prices remain stable. 

      The wreckage of the Northmart warehouse was still smouldering Friday morning. The main store was saved, but the warehouse, which stores non-perishable goods, was destroyed. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

      "I don't want people in the North to be gouged, whether deliberately, or simply by virtue of a lack of supply," said LeBlanc. "The price cannot be pushed up because of a circumstance like this, so we will work with the territorial government to ensure we do everything we can to make sure that doesn't happen."

      LeBlanc said his department will work with other levels of government to ensure a stable supply of food and goods to the capital, and that the federal government has offered a military airlift to the community, if needed.

      "For the moment they believe the situation is under control, and they have the resources they need," said LeBlanc. "But we will continue to work with them."

      The fire has forced residents in nearby homes to evacuate 1:33

      With files from Kieran Oudshoorn, Hannah Thibedeau and Heather Hiscox