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Polaris Apartments fire: cause unknown as evidence destroyed, say officials

Further investigation into the cause of the devastating weekend fire at Polaris Apartments in Yellowknife is 'impossible,' says the N.W.T. Fire Marshal.

N.W.T. Fire Marshal says an investigation into cause of apartment fire is 'impossible'

Yellowknife firefighters direct a hose at a fire on the top floor of the Polaris Apartments building on Sunday, June 14. The blaze began around 1 a.m. in one of the top-floor units of the building on 52 Avenue at 49 Street. (submitted by Matthew Yap)

Further investigation into the cause of the devastating weekend fire at Polaris Apartments in Yellowknife is "impossible," says the N.W.T. Fire Marshal.

"Our investigation of the physical evidence at this site has concluded," said Chucker Dewar.

The fire started in a unit on the top floor of the three-storey building, which was the area most affected by the blaze and was demolished as part of the firefighting effort. 

Dewar says his investigation has concluded because of the third floor's destruction. He says the RCMP will continue its investigation. 

Firefighters worked for 18 hours Sunday to put out the blaze at the Northern Property-owned building at the corner of 49 Street and 52 Avenue.

The building did not have a sprinkler system as it was constructed prior to the City of Yellowknife's bylaw requiring sprinkler systems in all multi-family buildings.

"If this building were built today in Yellowknife, there would be a requirement for it to be sprinkled," said Dewar.

He says the outcome of Sunday's fire would have been very different had the building been equipped with sprinklers. 

Blocked ceiling access

Yellowknife Fire Chief Darcy Hernblad says that an hour after crews started fighting the fire it spread up into the ceiling.

"We use a tool called a pike pole, and what a pike pole does is allow us to push up into the drywall and pull down big chunks of drywall so we can actually spray the water at the fire in the ceiling space," he said.

But when fire crews poked the ceiling they hit a hard surface — shiplap boards that Hernblad says were probably left up there during construction. As a result, firefighters weren't able to get at the ceiling space.

"We were chasing the fire, and the fire started to gain momentum and that's when it was changed from an offensive mode to a defensive mode," he said.

Firefighters had to evacuate the building and fight the fire from outside the structure, bringing in heavy equipment to pull apart the third floor so they could get at the flames under the roof.

There were no serious injuries, though one tenant and three RCMP officers were treated for smoke inhalation.

Though the bottom two floors of the building suffered only water damage, Dewar says no one will be allowed into go into the building in its current state. 

with files from Hilary Bird and Haydn Watters

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