Nunavut fire marshal calls Igloolik Co-Op fire suspicious: RCMP

Nunavut’s Office of the Fire Marshal is calling a fire that destroyed Igloolik’s co-op this week suspicious, RCMP have confirmed. 

Hamlet calls off state of emergency as fire was contained on Thursday

Fire fighters work to extinguish a fire at the Igloolik Co-Op Wednesday. Nunavut's fire marshal confirmed the cause of the fire is suspicious. (Submitted by Julian Blow)

Nunavut's Office of the Fire Marshal is calling a fire that destroyed Igloolik's co-op this week suspicious, RCMP have confirmed. 

Fire investigators flew to the community on Wednesday after a fire started early that morning. Police say they heard about the fire around 3:45 a.m. 

"According to the Fire Marshall, the fire is suspicious," Nunavut RCMP said in an email 

The Office of the Fire Marshal is not commenting at this time. 

The cause of the fire is still unknown and there is no more information being given to the public about the suspicious nature of the blaze that flattened the building. 

The fire was still smouldering the next evening, with active hot spots, Nunavut RCMP said in an email Thursday.

That afternoon, Igloolik Mayor Merlyn Recinos called off a state of emergency declared on Wednesday. 

Evacuated residents were able to return to their homes on Wednesday night around 9 p.m., according to the municipality's senior administrative officer Joanna Quassa. 

Quassa said around 10 volunteers fought the flames with one fire truck and a few water trucks until help came from Iqaluit. 

It was windy and around –30 C, according to daily weather averages from Environment Canada. 

Igulingmiut are very strong. I know we will work together and, yes, we will get a store back — that's my goal.- Susan Qamaniq, president of Igloolik Co-Op board of directors

Quassa says the store held dangerous goods like fuel and ammunition. 

"We've asked Canadian Rangers in town to help out to have crowd control and I have to say there was no huge explosion," she said.  "Both the fire fighters and the Public Works looked out for each other and made sure everyone was safe." 

Some dry goods were salvaged and more perishables will be flown in, said Duane Wilson, vice-president for Arctic Co-operatives. 

"They still do have some of the dry goods from sealift that weren't damaged that were in offsite storage. We've advised the competitor in town so that they could ramp up their orders and perhaps their staffing," he said.

Susan Qamaniq is president for the board of directors at the Igloolik Co-Op. She says it will take time, but a store will be rebuilt. (Submitted by Susan Qamaniq)

Hours will be increased at another small location owned by the Arctic Co-Op, but the community board of directors says the fire could mean layoffs for as many as half of the staff.   

Board of directors president Susan Qamaniq says her relatives work there and were worried because of their jobs. 

For co-op members, all savings accounts and business financial accounts will be restored when a new computer and server is able to be set up in the coming weeks, and membership dividends will continue, she said. 

Qamaniq says the co-op is like a "general store" for the community, selling rifles, generators, electronics and musical instruments, along with groceries. 

It was hard to watch the fire destroy the store, she said. 

"I went to go see it from my window, carrying my little baby and his bottle, and I was shocked, I was scared, my heart beat so fast and I got emotional and thought, hurry up, put it out," she said. 

"I can't even see the pictures of the burned building, it's all over Facebook. I know Igulingmiut are very strong. I know we will work together and, yes, we will get a store back — that's my goal," Qamaniq said. 

A former MLA in Igloolik, Louis Tapardjuk, remembers the co-op as his first job during summer breaks. He worked at there off and on for 25 years, he said, and remembers a previous fire at the co-op, decades ago. 

"This is an object, this is a building," he said in Inuktitut. "It will be replaced, we'll be able to get a new one." 

Paul Quassa, the current MLA for the district of Aggu, which includes Igloolik, said hearing Tapardjuk's story "touched everyone," because most residents are members. 

"We're all very connected to this co-op," he said. "It's an icon of our community."

A GoFundMe started Thursday had raised over $25,000 for the community food bank, as of Friday morning.