Growing numbers in need of emergency shelter days after highrise fire in Northern Canada

Smoke and flames could be seen billowing from a unit at around 3 p.m. Friday as the Mackenzie Place highrise building in Hay River, N.W.T. caught fire. (Aaron Tambour)
The mayor of Hay River, Northwest Territories, says the number of people looking for emergency shelter after being displaced by an apartment building fire last week is rising.

“It’s only growing day by day,” said Kandis Jameson of the 24 families who have already registered for help. She knows of about 100 more families and individuals who will be making similar requests.

As of Monday night, Jameson said the Dene Wellness Centre on the K’atl’odechee First Nation reserve was the only emergency shelter available for families.

The territorial government is looking at housing options. The Department of Municipal and Community Affairs oversees the N.W.T. Emergency Plan and has dispatched officials from the housing, health and income assistance divisions to assess people’s needs.

Staff are scheduled to meet privately with individual tenants and families this week. The housing corporation is also looking at the possibility of bringing in units and renovating existing ones.

“That may mean some relocation, that may mean new units coming in, that may mean deals with private landlords,” said Ian Legaree. a spokesman for the municipal affairs corporation.

Chucker Dewar, the Northwest Territories fire marshal, speaks with Hay River residents affected by the Mackenzie Place highrise fire on Monday night. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)
Residents unlikely to live in building again

Infrastructure Minister Wally Schumann, who also represents the riding of Hay River South, says there are “very limited” chances people will ever live in the Mackenzie Place highrise again.

But emergency access is underway to allow tenants in for short periods of time under escort to collect small personal items, such as cellphones, eyeglasses and travel documents.

The building has water, fire, asbestos, electrical and structural integrity issues, which is why the evacuation remains in place.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation

Schumann said as the evacuation approaches its fifth day, the territorial government “must take the lead, particularly for the people who are the most vulnerable.”

The building’s owner, Harry Satdeo, will start returning damage deposits next week, Schumann said.

Meanwhile, Chucker Dewar, the territory’s fire marshal, said the building’s owner has authorized “disaster mitigation efforts,” including dehumidifying and water collection within the building, as well as fire watch monitors to keep an eye out for subsequent fires.

For tenants, it’s a lot to take in.

Gabrielle Landrie listens to fire marshal Chucker Dewar during an event in Hay River, N.W.T., Monday night. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

Gabrielle Landrie lived on the apartment’s fourth floor with her partner. She says they’re among the lucky ones since they were able to stay with family after the fire.

“There are lots of people who are not as lucky. They are couch surfing for one or two nights with different friends,” she said. “How long can they keep that up? People need a place to live.”

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Iqaluit store fire forces residents from their homes, CBC News

Finland: Report highlights Finland’s top 5 housing problems, YLE News

Russia: Abandoned Russian airbase to become wealthy residential neighborhood, Photo report by The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Small town hopes to reverse depopulation trend affecting rural and Northern Sweden, Radio Sweden

Kirsten Murphy, CBC News

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