Kugaaruk 'lucky' its power plant's fuel tank didn't explode during school fire

The power plant’s 80,000-litre fuel tank sits adjacent to the school property, and was just 28.5 metres from the fire.

80,000-litre fuel tank sits adjacent to school property

Derek Ittimangnak stands in front of the Kugaaruk power plant's fuel tank and what's left of the Kugaardjuk school. The tank is only 28.5 metres from the school. (submitted by Derek Ittimangnak)

A fire that destroyed Kugaaruk's only school Tuesday night also came close to cutting the community's power supply.

The power plant's 80,000-litre fuel tank sits adjacent to the school property, and was just 28.5 metres from the fire once it engulfed the school's gymnasium. There is currently about 60,000 litres of fuel in the tank.

Crews battled the fire on the side of the school closest to the fuel tank but the wind was also blowing flames away from the tank.

Stephan Inaksajak, superintendent of the Qulliq Energy Corporation power plant in Kugaaruk, said his main focus was making sure the fire didn't reach the QEC property, and the tank.

"If that caught on fire, it will explode because it's fuel, and we would have no more power for the community," said Inaksajak.

"We were so lucky it didn't happen."

Without power, homes of the community's 950 residents would lose their heat sources. Environment Canada had an extreme cold weather warning in effect for Kugaaruk at the time of the fire. Windchills of -55 were forecast.

"The hamlet and the health centre have their own generators, and the school had one, but it was burning, so…" that would have reduced emergency shelter options to two buildings, he said.

He thanked firefighters, RCMP and everyone else who worked so hard in challenging conditions to protect the community.

Classes cancelled

The community's 300 students have had no classes for the rest of the week.

Officials from the departments of education, community and government services and health are in Kugaaruk figuring out how to get them back in class. The challenge is finding space to hold classes as there is no other large building in the community like the school.

There are five possible locations that could be used until the end of this school year and the government is looking into bringing portable classrooms into the community to be used until a new school can be built.

with files from Mike Salomonie